Editorial | A square by any other name

Axel Axgil’s child sex conviction should disqualify him from having a prominent square named after him. But the movement he contributed to ought to be given official recognition

Credit to the City Council for seeking to tread diplomatically by preferring to backtrack on its proposal to name a city square after gay rights activist Axel Axgil, rather than sullying his reputation by dredging up a 50-year-old child pornography conviction.

Were it not for the conviction, the city would have not only history but also the tide of current events on its side in its effort to rename the square after Axgil. It would also be able to make a strong argument that the square is the most appropriate location for such an honour.

The square lies little more than a bouquet’s throw from the front door of City Hall, where, in 1989, Axgil and his long-time partner, Eigil, became the world’s first homosexual couple to be officially registered in a same sex union.

That Denmark became the first country to permit civil partnerships for homosexuals may be as much a credit to the progressive mindset this country was once famous for as it is to the couple’s efforts to achieve equality in the eyes of the state, were it not for Axgil’s long track record as a gay rights activist.

Axgil’s conviction ought not to be overlooked, and given the detestable nature of child pornography, he should be excluded from being recognised by name at one of the city’s most prominent addresses. However, his accomplishments as an activist deserve to be recognised, and it seems that a fair compromise would be to name the square after something else associated with the gay rights movement.

From a marketing perspective, nothing would compare with such a move. For a country and a city obsessed with its reputation abroad, naming the square after the Church of Denmark cleric Nikolai Grundvig – whose name is likely to be confused with a German radio producer – rather than associating it with the gay rights movement would be the ultimate in lost promotional opportunities.

Long off the political agenda in many places, the number of legislatures world-wide approving same-sex marriage and civil unions has exploded in recent months. Denmark itself started allowing full-fledged church marriages last year. New Zealand did the same recently. A similar measure was passed this week in the US state of Minnesota, which only six months ago nearly voted to explicitly ban homosexuals from marrying.

There is nothing to directly link Axgil, or even Denmark, with the rapid change of heart on the global scale towards same sex unions. Nevertheless, the city ought to recognise that it played a founding role in that sweeping change – if not by remembering the man, then at least by honouring the movement he contributed to.

And if that decision disappoints Axgil’s heirs, they can always paraphrase Cato the Elder by saying: I’d rather have people ask why he has no square named after me than why he does.