Parliament and most bishops support the new law
interchurch.dk/Edward Broadbridge – Since 1989 gay couples in Denmark have been able to officially register their partnerships, and since 2005 they have been able to have these blessed in a church ceremony in six of the ten dioceses. On 7 June, after a heated debate in the Danish Parliament, a bill allowing same-sex marriage civilly as well as in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark (ELCD) was passed with 85 MPs for, 24 against, and 2 abstentions. A while ago the Minister for Church Affairs asked the 10 bishops to formulate a wedding liturgy that included same-sex couples. Eight of the bishops have participated in this work whilst two have decided against the procedure for theological reasons. The Minister of Church Affairs, Manu Sareen, has welcomed the parliamentary result as well as the new liturgy, which has since been authorised by the Queen. The law comes into effect on 15 June.
‘Spouse’ replaces ‘husband/wife’
The main difference in the new ritual is to substitute at one point ‘wedded spouse’ for ‘wedded husband/wife’. Some readings will be dropped, such as Genesis 1:37: “… male and female he created them,” while others will be added at the discretion of the pastor and the couple. Pastors who are unwilling to perform the ceremony are free not to do so, but other church staff such as organists, are not legally exempt from participation.
On his diocesan website Bishop of Copenhagen Peter Skov-Jakobsen of Copenhagen says: “The ritual for same-sex marriages shows a church rooted in an Evangelical Lutheran tradition of interpreting the Christian Gospel in its contemporary setting. As a church we are very conscious of interpreting in present and not in past time … the Gospel creates openness towards people and now at last also openness towards same-sex couples. In this way our national church will now reflect the wider society, which is extremely important.”
Opposition to the move
On her diocesan website Bishop Lise-Lotte Rebel of Helsingoer opposes the move: “Parliament has promised church members something that Parliament is not entitled to promise. Only the responsible leadership of the church can promise this.” Agreeing with her, Per Oerum Joergensen of the Christian Democrat party is considering mounting a legal challenge to the parliamentary decision: “It is not a political question about being for or against homosexuals. It is about the extent to which Parliament can interfere in a matter for the Church alone.”
A large majority of pastors welcomes the parliamentary decision. Among the opponents, however, is a network of pastors who see the bishops’ move as possibly splitting the church in two. Pastor Henrik Hoejlund is spokesperson for the network which no longer has confidence in the bishops as spiritual guides. Asked why he does not therefore leave the ELCD to form a free congregation, he told the Christian Daily: “The most obvious conclusion is to say that the ELCD is not the church of the bishops anymore. This is how we view it. This is why we are staying in the church. I feel that even though we may be considered the “right wing” of the church, we are actually in its very centre.”