When the debate about homosexual marriages cropped up last year around this time, polls showed that the majority of Danes – 69 percent – favoured equal marriage rights regardless of sexual orientation. Bishops were slightly more sceptical, but the majority – 60 percent – said same-sex couples should also have the right to be wed in the Church of Denmark.
With the people and the clergy behind it, it is only natural that the legislature, now in the hands of a progressive-minded government, was pushed through last week to approve gay marriages.
Among those applauding the measure were certainly many homosexuals couples who were finally granted the same religious freedom heterosexual couples enjoy. Others were probably pleased simply because it kicked down one more discriminatory door.
But while some homosexuals were cheering, it isn’t certain they all were. Polls among homosexuals themselves last year showed an even greater split in attitudes than among the population as a whole.
For many, the idea of being recognised in the eyes of the state institution was attractive, but many also said they were turned off by a debate about the rights of homosexuals in the Church of Denmark that they felt was dominated by right-orientated, conservative ministers who are overly focused on marriage. The sentiment seemed to be if they don’t want us, then we don’t want them either.
With the passage of the law permitting same-sex marriage, the clergy has in all haste composed a new marriage rite for homosexual ceremonies devoid of any of the Biblical references to marriage as an institution involving a man and a woman. The question then is whether the existence of two different rites will have some people, particularly among the most conservative groups, viewing the homosexual unions as unequal to heterosexual marriages.
Rather than trying to force equality on the church, equality-minded lawmakers here in Denmark should have looked to France, where couples must register with their council authorities prior to being allowed to wed in the church.
Applying the same thinking in Denmark could have made civil unions the marital standard for all – regardless of sexual preference, creed or nationality. Those that chose to garnish their nuptials with a religious ceremony would still have had a free hand to do so, but whether they chose to do so or not wouldn’t have left them with a martial status that was any more or less worthy in the eyes of the state or society as a whole.