Is there something rotten in the state of Denmark?

Is there something rotten in the state of Denmark? June 8, 2012

In my Catholic blog folder, I found a link to an Telegraph article that said LGBT activists have done what the sky-is-falling conservatives have always claimed: they’re won the “right” to force churches to conduct gay weddings.  Here’s the Telegraph‘s writeup:

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.

Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief.

I’d strongly disapprove, just as I would if previously divorced people tried to use the State to get a Catholic wedding, but the whole thing seemed so implausible, I decided to do a little research before complaining.  Luckily I had a clue, the title of Manu Sareen quoted above.  Add in the fact that several news outlets were reporting on this as though it was just a run of the mill gay marriage law, and I had a good hypothesis.

It turns out Denmark has a state church.

According to Wikipedia, the highest legislative authority for the church is the Danish parliament, so they’re perfectly free to require the church perform gay weddings.  And that’s not even the weirdest result of a State church: in 2005 a contentious excommunication was undone by the Denmark Supreme Court.

So the takeaway is: this is just more bad religion writing in need of the GetReligion treatment and oh my goodness is fusing church and State a bad idea.  Please let people know if you see them picking up the Telegraph story.

Update: GetReligion did end up covering this.  Yay!

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  • IslandBrewer

    “the highest legislative authority for the church is the Dutch parliament”

    Don’t you mean Danish parliament?



  • mrp

    Surely you mean the Danish parliament, not the Dutch?
    The problem is that the state church is written into the constitution of Denmark, where it says that the exact relationship (that is, what kind of power the state has over the church) is to be specified by law, but these laws have never actually been created after the constitution was written, meaning that there is debate about what rights the state church has and which it doesn’t.
    Naturally, the church claims in this instance that it’s autonomy is being undermined (but they’re still happy to take the government’s money, of course), whereas other people claim that since it is the state church, it most be open to all people and follow the principles and laws of public, government organisations.
    In fact, the REAL problem is that it’s very hard to change the constitution. Both the state/church relationship as well as the royal house (and the requirement that all royalty must be Christian) are written into the constitution, which obviously needs an update in order to bring it up to the standards of a modern society. However, in order to change the constitution, not only is a majority vote required, it is also required that at least 40% of the voting population votes in favour. As an example, the last change to the constitution was in 2009 where it was changed so that a female heir to throne has as much right to succeed it as a male heir does (so an older female heir won’t be sidestepped for a younger male). At this vote, only 58% of the voting population actually voted, with 45% in favour (and it should be added that this vote was scheduled to coincide with an actual election, meaning much higher turnouts). So it is very hard to get enough votes to change the constitution, which is also why trying to change the constitution has traditionally been a losing policy. In fact, though the current government is as secular and republican as you can get in Denmark, it does not currently officially endorse a change of the constitution (though one party, Radikale Venstre, has often expressed a wish to update the constitution to seperate church and state and to remove the royal house). That is why they’re currently trying to patch things up with legislation like this rather than trying to get to the root of the problem.

    Sorry for the fairly in-depth comment, I got a bit carried away.

    • mrp

      A small correction: The change in 2009 was not actually to the constitution, but to a law that was written at the same time as the constitution and is mentioned in the constitution, hence it has been deemed that the same resctrictions apply for changing this law. The Danish constitution was last changed in 1953.

    • leahlibresco

      Yes, thanks for the catch!

  • Thank you for telling people about this!

    As a Dane I’m incredibly pleased about this law (although I’d rather see church and state separated.)

    Furthermore, no vicars will be forced to conduct a marriage against their beliefs because of a morality clause (they can refuse to conduct any marriage, including marriage between divorcees and interfaith marriages, as well as same-sex marriages). If a vicar refuses to conduct a marriage the couple can still get married at that church, but the ceremony will be conducted by another vicar.

  • Thanks, Leah. I posted a note on this to Elizabeth Scalia’s Facebook post as soon as it came up. The UK article used the terms “priests” and “bishops,” which are not as commonly used in the US with regard to Protestant denominations, so it flipped some folks out. Catholics make up less than 1% of the Danish population, and are most likely not affected by the legislation.

  • If you’d ever gone through Kierkegaard mania, you’d have known about the Danish state church.

    “…then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could have been intended for enjoyment.”