Gay church marriages in Denmark

The Telegraph reports that the Danish parliament has passed a law requiring all churches in the Nordic country to perform gay marriages. Clergy may opt not to perform the ceremonies, but church authorities must find a substitute minister to solemnize the marriage. Strong stuff, if true. Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, Reformed, Orthodox and Pentecostal churches will now be compelled to perform gay marriages, the Telegraph reports, even if it is forbidden by their theological views on marriage.

Here is the lede:

The country's parliament voted through the new law on same-sex marriage by a large majority, making it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages.

Denmark's church minister, Manu Sareen, called the vote "historic".

"I think it's very important to give all members of the church the possibility to get married. Today, it's only heterosexual couples."

Under the law, individual priests can refuse to carry out the ceremony, but the local bishop must arrange a replacement for their church.

The article recounts the political battle that led up to the vote, which passed 85 to 26 and offers quotes from supporters of both sides of the debate.

A conservative politician is cited as saying:

"Marriage is as old as man himself, and you can't change something as fundamental," the party's church spokesperson Christian Langballe said during the debate. "Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman."

While the Bishop of Viborg is reported as saying the new law risks "splitting the church".  The government's religion minister, who is identified as an agnostic, had sharp words for those who disagree with the new law.

"The minority among Danish people, politicians and priests who are against, they've really shouted out loud throughout the process."

While a prominent gay politician offers the obligatory medieval quote:

"We have felt a little like we were living in the Middle Ages," he told Denmark's TV2 station. "I think it is positive that there is now a majority for it, and that there are so many priests and bishops who are in favour of it, and that the Danish population supports up about it. We have moved forward. It's 2012."

All in all, this is a nicely balanced piece. Views from both sides are offered and the casual reader gets a sense of where the debate lies. However, there is a hole in this story that needs to be filled -- which churches will be compelled to perform gay weddings?

The article states that "all churches" will be compelled to perform gay marriages? Is that true?  No.

According to the Copenhagen Post this law applies only to the state Lutheran Church. It reported:

The ban on marrying same-sex couples in the Church of Denmark will be overturned in parliament today, as a majority of parties have announced their intention to support a law to make marriage gender neutral.

The law does permit vicars to decline to marry same-sex couples in their church, however. In such cases, couples would need to find another minister to perform the ceremony for them.

Same-sex ceremonies may occur as soon as June 15 should the nation's bishops, as expected, come up with a ceremony by Monday that can be used to wed same-sex couples in church.

The new ceremony was needed after bishops ruled that the current one can only be used to wed heterosexual couples. But while same-sex and heterosexual couples will be wed using different rituals, their marriage status will be equal.

As Denmark has a state church an informed reader would come to this story with the knowledge that the government would only be able to compel the state church, the Lutheran Church, to perform gay marriages. But knowledge of Danish ecclesial affairs is not something one acquires in the normal course of life -- the Telegraph should have been  more specific.

It would also have helped to recount the heavy newspaper campaigning by supporters of gay marriage in Denmark. The Danish press has been far from neutral in its coverage of this issue.

A leder in the conservative daily Kristeligt Dagblad had argued that  politicians should refrain from obliging the Danish National Church to perform marriage rites between homosexual partners:

Politicians shouldn't play at being theologians. The Danish National Church should decide for itself what rituals take place within the church. For obvious reasons such a decision will revolve around other factors than equal treatment. ... There's much at stake here, including the historical understanding of wedlock as the foundation of the family, which remains the smallest and most important social unit. The politicians who are making the Church a battleground for party politics should not simply ignore this.

The left wing daily Politiken applauded the vote in a 8 June 2012 leder.

This resolution is not only a victory for homosexuals, but also for Denmark's progressive, multifaceted image, which has been keeping a low profile in recent years. At the same time the resolution marks a defeat for the alliance of narrow-minded conservatives and religious sourpusses that held sway under the conservative government.

The European press may be able to offer a balanced analysis of the political forces that produced the parliamentary victory for the liberal government. But it largely incapable of relating, even understanding, the religious issues at play.

There is a story here that has yet to be told. The Telegraph reports that one bishop believes this  law will split the Danish National Church. The Copenhagen Post reports that only 3 of the 10 Danish bishops back the new law. Something is going to happen -- hopefully the press will pick up on this story -- and not approach it in the way Politiken has approached the story in parliament.

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