The presiding government of Denmark has given the green light for plans to allow same-sex couples to marry and also to allow religious marriage for same-sex couples too.
The bill is to be debated on March 20.
No date has been set for the vote, but the legislation is expected to be adopted as the government and its key ally, the far-left Red Greens, support the bill and together hold a majority in parliament.
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said earlier this week that if adopted, the new law would enter into force on June 15 and “we will see the first gays and lesbians marry in the Danis Lutheran Church by this summer”.
It’s “a big step forward and one which is natural in a modern Denmark”, Mr Thorning-Schmidt sid.
While the legislation would allow for church weddings, no church will be forced to solemnize same-sex unions. Six of 10 high ranking bishops in the Church who were questioned in 2010 by the Berlingske Tidende newspaper said they were in favour of same-sex marriages. Still, some church officials have reacted negatively to the proposals. This hasn’t deterred the PM however.
“It will always be up to the individual priest as to whether he or she is prepared to bless gay couples but this legislation provides homosexuals with the same rights as heterosexuals,” said the PM.
A number of priests have already voiced their displeasure at the prospect of the church hosting gay weddings, but Ms Thorning Schmidt said it’s been a ‘hard, but good’ debate and the government’s managed to come up with a solution that respects both points of view.
“It’s an important message for a country such as Denmark to send – we respect every citizen’s choice but we also respect priests’ choice too,” she said.
Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt’s center-left party is currently putting the finishing touches to the legislation. Assuming they can muster adequate support for the bill, and given the confidence that seems to underpin this proposal there seems little reason to doubt the party’s momentum, the legislation could come into effect as soon as June 15.
Denmark was the first country to legalize registered partnerships for gay couples. They did so in 1989. Denmark’s slow up-take on gay marriage may be because the partnership legislation was amended and expanded through the years to give a legally equivalent union — though not the cultural significance.
While seven European countries have legalized same-sex marriage, Denmark would join a select few — just Iceland and Sweden — in giving the Church the option to marry same-sex couples.
Polls suggest that a strong majority of Danes support allowing gay couples to marry in church.