A Pride Reflection: I Have Marriage Equality. Danish Citizens Do Not.

Pride Month is coming to a close, and with that comes a chance to reflect on the progress made towards LGBTQ+ rights around the world.

Derek Hartman

For most of my adult life, Pride has been more of a celebration than a protest.

Because I was born in a certain year and in a liberal part of the American northeast, I was denied little compared to earlier generations and those born in other parts of the world.

As a teenager, I went to my first gay club without fear of police raids and violence.

In my twenties, I dated without the trauma of the AIDS crisis. In 2022, I married my husband with our families by our side and nothing more than paperwork in our way.

My experiences have become so common, they’re easy to take for granted.

Pride Month is a fitting period to remember that if I was born a generation earlier or in another region of the world, my life would not look this way.

Moved to Copenhagen in 2017

My now-husband and I moved to Copenhagen in early 2017, eighteen months after the United States Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was lawful and guaranteed in all 50 states.

That ruling came a year after my home state of Pennsylvania reached the same decision and three years after Denmark granted marriage equality to same-sex couples.

Denmark introduced same-sex marriage in 2012, but first allowed registered partnerships for same-sex couples in 1989.

It was a first-in-the-world milestone for LGBTQ+ people, and took place in Copenhagen City Hall. For that very reason, my husband and I chose to exchange our vows there, even though we are both American.

Denmark being the first nation to recognize a same-sex union remains a poignant legacy, but it has paradoxically fallen short in providing equal marriage rights for a subset of its own citizens; Danes who marry non-EU spouses.

Danes in this group are significantly burdened by the state, even making it impossible for some to start their wedded lives in Denmark.

Financially, these couples are required to deposit a financial guarantee of over 113.000 dkk. That alone inhibits couples from enjoying the right of marriage.

Arbitrary housing requirements

Sadly, that isn’t the only burden. Before Danish citizens are granted the right to marry their non-EU partners, Denmark enforces arbitrary housing requirements, employment stipulations, and integration criteria.

These barriers to marriage are not in place for Danes who marry their fellow citizens or other EU citizens.

EU citizens who are not Danish, but reside in Denmark are also immune from these obstacles when they wed non-EU citizens.

As a non-EU citizen who married another non-EU citizen, I was also unaffected by these regulations. To put it more plainly, I have marriage rights in Denmark that Danish citizens lack.

Perhaps I’m uniquely sensitive to the concept of marriage rights being toyed with or manipulated for political purposes, but that is exactly why I find this issue so important to raise.

If love is love, why can’t Danish citizens living in a purportedly “high trust society” be trusted to marry their partner of choice without bureaucratic hoops and a 113.000 dkk dowery?

I like to think the answer to the question is because politicians write the laws, and unless you’re personally impacted by them, most of us are unaware.

Confused Danish friends

Those first same-sex unions in Copenhagen City Hall were a reflection of fairness and equality – important values in Danish culture.

When I’ve discussed this topic with Danish friends, they’re equally confused by the situation and can agree that it’s an unfair burden.

The knowledge that many Danish citizens who marry non-EU partners will move to another EU country because of these requirements is equally outrageous to them.

It’s not lost on me that many same-sex couples once moved away from their communities to states or nations that would recognise their unions.

Globally, rights for LGBTQ+ people advanced under community leaders who used the mantra, “out of the closet and into the street”.

It may sound dated in today’s society, but it refers to the idea that living openly was the only way forward.

People who were not impacted by regulations, restrictions, and political targeting of the LGBTQ+ community weren’t moved to do anything about it.

The only way to change public perception was to humanize the issues by making it personal.

What was once an abstract movement of “radical queers on the news” became “my nephew, Lars,” “my neighbors, Anne and Line,” and “my favorite colleague, Philip”.

In other words, they opened up and created allies. Internationals and the Danes who marry them need to raise their voices and do the same.

I believe in the Denmark that issued civil partnerships to same-sex couples in 1989, well-ahead of the rest of the world.

Failing its own citizens

That Denmark stands for fairness and equality, but is falling short in that area for many of its own citizens.

The disparity in marriage rights for Danes who love non-EU citizens isn’t widely-known, but wouldn’t be popular.

For the necessary reforms to take place, the impacted community needs to be more vocal about these burdens and make it personal to potential allies.

The LGBTQ+ community has a history of activism, especially around marriage rights, and often takes up points of solidarity with other marginalized groups.

Here’s a group that needs some solidarity.

As Pride Month closes, I’m immensely appreciative of the Denmark that paved the way for my own marriage, but saddened by the one that undermines the spirit of equality and inclusivity we seek to celebrate each June.

I got to marry the person I love without undue emotional or financial burden.

I hope one day all Danes can say the same.