The new centre-left Danish government is preparing a long list of amendments to existing legislation that will give homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.
“This is historic. Such a major change has not taken place since women priests were allowed in the national church,” says Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs Manu Sareen.
Denmark’s national Lutheran Church, Folkekirken, has hitherto been opposed to complete ecclesiastical equality between heterosexuals and homosexuals, but bishops have now said they are prepared to formulate a marriage rite making it possible for priests to marry homosexuals.
“I think that many church groups will be happy that there is finally a political decision on which way to go. But many will also be unhappy that the difference between marriage and partnership is to disappear,” says Copenhagen Bishop Peter Skov-Hansen.
The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs set up a committee in 2010 to discuss church attitudes to registered partnerships. Eleven of the 12 committee members reported that marriage between a man and a woman, and a partnership between two people of the same gender, are two different things.
The majority found that perceiving marriage as gender neutral was “a strange abstract view of human beings”.
The new move will require changes to marriage laws and the development of a new marriage rite for homosexuals. Currently, priests in the national Lutheran Church are only able to bless homosexual couples who have entered into a registered partnership in a civil ceremony.
The Danish National Organisation for Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered Persons (LGBT) is enthusiastic.
“It is more than we had hoped for. Words mean a lot, and the fact that you cannot call yourselves a married couple today is a sign of inequality,” says LGBT Chair Vivi Jelstrup.
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