Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 1989-1990

Denmark Leads the Way

The decision taken by the Danish parliament to allow lesbian and gay ‘marriage’ by its Registered Partnership Act is a historic one for lesbians and gays worldwide.

Much publicity was given to the mass wedding which took place when the Act became law on 1 October, but its real significance lies in the legislative rights lesbians and gays will have as couples. These rights include the possibility of gaining tax advantages (transfer of income), automatic full rights of inheritance (in the absence of children), reduced inheritance tax (even in the absence of a will), the right to retain the undivided possession of an estate, the same pension and insurance rights (public and private) as a heterosexual married couple, the right to assistance from the court in case of divorce, and mutual liability for maintenance (public assistance and other state help).

Registered partnership differs, however, from heterosexual marriage in certain respects. Registered partners cannot adopt children (non-related or each other’s), nor can they have common custody of children. An official church wedding is disallowed and one of the partners must be Danish. The registered partnership will not be recognised in other countries.

Not surprisingly, the most vociferous opposition to the new legislation came from religious sources. The opposition in parliament was led by the Christian Democrats. The Lutheran Church (the State Church) was bitterly divided about it and it was strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and non-conformists like Baptists and Pentecostalists. The humanist organisation in Denmark, on the other hand, includes a reference to same-sex legal partnership in its policy statement and campaigned to bring about the reform.

For lesbians and gays in Denmark, even for those who have no intention of registering as a couple, the new law is a real step forward, but the likelihood of it being introduced in the UK in the foreseeable future is very remote – without, that is, European intervention.

After 1992, when European borders are removed, there are going to be increased calls for harmonisation of social legislation. Fears have been expressed by some that, as far as legislation affecting lesbians and gays is concerned, it might be harmonisation in the wrong direction if the more conservative policies of some EC members prevail. To try and avert that, the International Lesbian and Gay Association will shortly be presenting a petition to the European Parliament urging the EC legislature to expand its Declaration of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the European Citizen to include lesbians and gays. Such legislation would be binding on all twelve EC members and would hopefully force the UK into line with the more liberal countries like Denmark and the Netherlands.

The chances of further law reform being carried out in the UK under a Conservative government are virtually nil, and the chances under a Labour government remain doubtful. Even if the recent Labour Party conference decision results in lesbian and gay rights becoming part of its manifesto and it wins the next election, Labour will be much too preoccupied in the first years with economic matters to deal with legislation affecting lesbians and gays. Our best hope, therefore, of achieving anything like the situation in liberal Denmark – equal age of consent, anti-discrimination legislation, registered partnership, etc. – lies with Europe.

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Created : Sunday, 1999-09-05 / Last updated : Sunday, 2008-02-10
Brett Humphreys :