[Ecumenical News International, Oslo] Eight of the ten bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark on June 11 presented a ritual for same-sex marriage to the country’s Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs.
Their action came in response to the Danish Parliament’s decision on June 7 to change the marriage legislation so that from June 15 same-sex couples may be married in a civil ceremony or in the state church, the church’s website reported.
The ritual states that pastors who cannot theologically support same-sex marriage shall be free not to use the rite. Denmark’s sovereign, Queen Margrethe II, is expected to approve the new ritual shortly. A rite for the blessing of civil same-sex marriages was also proposed by the bishops.
Since 1989, homosexual couples in Denmark have been able to register officially their partnerships and, since 2005, to have their partnerships blessed in a church ceremony in six of the 10 dioceses of the Lutheran state church.
Bishop Peter Skov-Jakobsen of Copenhagen was quoted on the diocesan website as saying that “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 highly conscious of interpreting in present and not in past time.”
He also said that “the Gospel creates openness towards people and now at last also openness towards same-sex couples. In that way our national church will now reflect the wider society, which is incredibly important.”
Bishop Lise-Lotte Rebel of Helsingoer did not support her eight colleagues, arguing that parliament should not interfere in church affairs. “Parliament has promised church members something that parliament is not entitled to promise. Only the responsible leadership of the church can promise this,” she told a parliament hearing on the matter on May 14, according to her diocese’s website.
Reminding parliamentarians that Denmark’s new marriage legislation is in conflict with the traditional understanding of marriage as a union between man and woman, in church as well as in society, Rebel said parliament “has acted as an archbishop or a pope,” and that is “something which is totally inappropriate in a modern, democratic society.”
As of Jan. 1, 2011, 4.5 million of Denmark’s 5.6 million inhabitants were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In Denmark, the church is governed by the monarch and the government.
Same-sex civil marriage has been legal in Norway since 2008, in Sweden since 2009 and in Iceland since 2010. Finland has since 2001 offered public registration of same-sex couples.
The General Synod of the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden in 2009 adopted a liturgy for same-sex marriage. The Bishops’ Conference of the (Lutheran) Church of Norway expects to decide on the matter in 2014. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland have not reached a decision on same-sex marriage.
ENS editor’s note: The Church of Denmark is a member of the Porvoo Communion, which groups the British and Irish Anglican churches and the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches that have entered into a full communion agreement to “share a common life in mission and service.” The Church of England remains in that ecumenical agreement, although it currently is opposed to same-sex marriage.