The Danes are crazy – Gay marriage and religion

Poster asking for same-sex marriage in Italy a...

Samesex marriage in Italy

Yes we know we are off our hinges, we have lost the mark and we don’t have a clue. I’m talking about the same sex marriage legislation being passed by the newly appointed Danish government. We were the first to allow gay marriage and now we are going to be the first (to my knowledge) to allow a Christian church to wed people of the same sex. Apparently nobody in Denmark has ever opened a bible. But none the less this is what is happening.

The argument for gay marriage has been and still is, that the Danish church is not separated from the Danish state and therefor should follow the norms that the rest of society is following. As Denmark have signed and ratified several charters and norms and equality, human rights, minority rights, etc. then these rules should also apply to all the states affairs including the Danish protestant church. A further argument is that most of the expenses that the church has are upheld by the state and therefor the state should have a final say in its affairs and operations. So far so good.

As the proposal stands now it will be voluntary if a priest will conduct the marriage ceremony. The priest can refuse to marry a gay couple based on his or her beliefs. But even that is also being debated and it is not settled if a priest will have the right to refuse to marry anybody.

I should note that I’m not a member of the Danish protestant church as a matter of conscious and as part of my Kierkegaardian search for a true belief. (I will not bother you with the details of my soul searching (if I have one J)). But being an observer I think that this raises at least two key questions.

  1. The question of religion. If a religion defines marriage in a certain way should it not follow this belief? One cannot rewrite the Bible, Quran or Jad just because norms in society change. It is at the core of religion that it is a belief in something fundamental and unchangeable in people. They believe that there is something more than themselves that guides and makes suggestions for improving your life and how you live it and that these answers can be found in religious textures. So if your religious belief system defines marriage as being between two people of opposite sex then that is it. This does not mean that one cannot have gay marriage and have the ceremony in a church it just means that this will be part of another belief system, which is not for example Christian, Jewish, or Islam.
  2. Should the state have jurisdiction on religious belief? It would seem to me that in so far as one defines religion as something more and other than the state, how come that the state can decide how to define belief. I can understand the argument that if one pays for something then one would like to have some sort of influence on the outcome or product. But religion does not work that way, is a belief and thereby something that one cannot measure as output or production. This does not mean that it is opposed to the state it just means that it is independent of the state and could potentially have conflicts on issues to do with the religious outlook. One can of cause argue that if Christians does not like the new law they can just leave the church, but is this will mean that Christians will be leaving the church because that believe in the words in the bible. In the end we could end up with a Christian church with people who do not believe in the words in the bible and therefor have no religious texture to guide them (as my argument was before in 1). To a none-believer this seems like a contradiction and something even I would find difficult to understand. But maybe the state will hire some high-profile spin-doctor who can lay it all out so that everyone still thinks that it is still the same religious system we are talking about.

To be honest I do not have any problems with homosexuals being married. For all that I care they can do exactly what they think is right for them and I will do my best to help them any way I can to ensure that their human rights are upheld. What I think my concern is is how religion should be defined if it can be changed in such a fundamental way. For me religion stands as a supplement or as an alternative to all the other forces that guide and forces our way of living it has meaning because it is not a normative system or a political power.

In my view the Danish state should abandon its self-understanding of being based on the Christian religion and rather subscribe to other more norm-based beliefs such as the ones proclaimed by the UN, EU or other normative institutions. Or as an alternative the state could create its own religion based on a mixture or different religious beliefs and normative rules as they see fit.


5 thoughts on “The Danes are crazy – Gay marriage and religion

  1. Hum, very interesting (particularly your search for Kierkegaardian true belief). I very much agree with everything you’ve written here.

    I guess the question I struggle with is the extent to which belief systems can change when the opinions of the people within them change – and whether there can be any sense of a settled agreed belief if/when the majority of people don’t believe in it.

    The more I read of Kierkegaard and George Fox, the less belief I have in the church as ‘institution’ anyway. If I believe that marriage is not something which can ever be ‘validated’ by a church or any other authority anyway, whether or not gays are married ‘in church’ becomes irrelevant. And if I believe that church as institution is actually the antithesis of the gospel, the fact that it exists as institution becomes more important than the ceremonial state function it might hold.

    Or to put it another way: if all that we perceive and understand about ‘church’ is wrong in a very fundamental way, where does that leave us?

    • Thanks Joe for your feedback. I think you are quite right in your analysis but it is not a debate we are used to. I do feel that there is a growing gap between what I believe to be the institution of the church and the Christian religion as such. Some would argue that as anything else the church should follow the times and society that it is part of and evaluation is necessary for it survival. On the other hand I have a growing concern that the institution will alienate itself from its origins and by that lose its “soul”.

  2. No, the Danes are not the first. Both Sweden and Denmark approved same -sex church weddings at the same time that they passed the standard marriage equality legislation. Elsewhere, there are numerous churches which regularly conduct marriages on a basis free of gender discrimination. For instance, on January 1st this year, two lesbian priests were married in a very public service in Boston (Episcopal) cathedral.

    What, after all, is the objection to marriage in church?

    Your arguments against gay marriage as being prohibited in the Bible are flawed. These assumptions are based on the sellective use of only half a dozen texts, out of context, mistranslated, and misinterpreted.

    Taking the Gospels as a whole, in context, the emphasis is clearly on the principles of inclusion, love, and justice. Christ himself said never a word about same-sex relationships, which were commonplace in the entire Mediterranean world at the time, and did not hesitate to visit the home of the Roman centurion, to heal his “servant” – and likely male lover.

    • Hi Terence,
      Thanks for the reply you are quite right about the Swedes have had the option since 2009. In Denmark we are still debating however, but the legislation will properly come though next year. I would like to remark (again) that I have no problems with same sex marriage also when it is performed in a church setting. And if any church in the world decided that that was the way they want to interpret the bible they can do so. However, what I’m arguing is the boundary between the church as an institution based on norms (which I think your examples imply) and religion as a belief which gives meaning to life.

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