The Parliament in Denmark passed a law today that legalises same sex marriage. There were 85 votes for, 24 against and two abstentions. The objective was, interestingly, to make the marriage laws gender neutral. In other words, it is equal marriage rather than creating a separation between marriage and same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, said, “Today we allow homosexual couples to enter into marriage on the same footing as any others.”
Denmark was the first country in the world to pass a civil partnerships law back in 1989. There are roughly 4,100 couples in registered partnerships, and under the new law those couples will automatically be afforded the status of marriage.
Any potential conflict with the Church of Denmark has been dealt with by allowing priests to opt out of marrying same-sex couples. Talking to Politiken newspaper, the Church Minister, Manu Sareen, said, “We are giving vicars the opportunity to say no. That’s what’s so fantastic about this proposal. On the one hand it allows same sex couples the opportunity to get married. But at the same time we are reaching out to priests and saying that those who don’t want to wed homosexual couples don’t have to. We recognise that when dealing with theology you have to accept there will be different interpretations.”
The law is to come in effect as soon as possible, with first ceremonies set to occur as soon as June 15. It only remains for the country’s bishops to create a ceremony that can be used to wed same-sex couples in church.
This is an important step forward in the same-sex marriage debate because it has successfully navigated the potential conflicts with religious institutions, and it has established the idea that civil partnerships can automatically be upgraded to the status of marriage. The great idea is that marriage is gender neutral, and that the same rights apply to a same-sex couple as a heterosexual couple.