Danish Lutheran Pastors may be forced to perform same-sex weddings

[23 September 2014]

A new Danish law may force pastors in the nominally Lutheran state church (Folkekirken) to perform same-sex weddings in some instances. Folkekirken is ruled directly by the Danish parliament. By law, Folkekirken members have a legal right to have their pastor conduct their wedding. Folkekirken pastors may not refuse, but the 2012 law authorizing same-sex marriage contains a ‘conscience clause’ allowing pastors who consider same-sex marriage unbiblical to decline. A newly enacted Danish law apparently creates an exception to this exception.

The new law permits any person to change his legal gender by simply filing a form stating that he now considers himself of the opposite sex. This person is thereafter considered by the government to have changed gender. No surgical alterations or hormone treatments are required, only the filing of the form. The Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad reports that in the first five days the law was in effect 123 persons filed for a change of legal gender identity.

Church Minister Marianne Jelved

The government’s Minister for Church Affairs, Marianne Jelved, has stated that if a person in a homosexual partnership files as being of the opposite gender and then wishes to marry the partner, this is now legally a heterosexual wedding. “The right to decline to perform homosexual weddings does not apply,” she stated. “Pastors must respect the civil authority’s determination.” Thus, in the opinion of the Minister, a Folkekirken pastor must perform the wedding in this situation.

“If [following the new law] goes against their consciences,” Jelved told Kristeligt Dagblad, her view is “they can resign.”

Pastor Henrik Højlund        Foto: ELN

Pastor Henrik Højlund, a Folkekirken parish pastor and chairman of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Network (ELN), said “I will not perform such a wedding, regardless of what the Church Minister says. … They may fire me, but I won’t do it.”

“We are on a slippery slope,” Højlund continued, “when one can change sex because he feels like something else. Gender is not a matter of feelings. When you do this, you are playing God … It is certainly hard to be gender-confused and to have to live with it, but that is better than trying to construct an alternate reality.”

The ELN is a coalition of eight conservative Danish groups that range from what Americans might call “Evangelical” to Confessional Lutheran. Some are still within Folkekirken, some not. The groups share a high view of the authority of Scripture, but differ on particular doctrines, and agree in opposing the radically liberal direction of Folkekirken.

Taking a different view, Eva Tøjner Götke, Vice President of Pastors’ Association, supports the new law.

"We must be careful not to mix our moral vision into this,” she argues. "As a pastor, you have a duty to marry people who want to get married if they are of differing gender. This applies regardless of whether the gender difference is legal or biological."