Denmark, one of the most socially generous countries in Europe introduced legislation last week that would legalize same-sex marriage. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister from the Social Democratic party, has made it a priority to be a pioneer in economic, social and environmental policy. New York’s Channel 6 News reports that Denmark became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex unions in 1989 but for years the government has rejected proposals of same-sex marriage.
This new legislation would “allow same-sex couples to get married at both City Hall and the Church of Denmark if they find a priest who is willing to perform the wedding. Although some church leaders have spoken out against same-sex marriage, previous surveys have suggested that as many as 70 percent of priests are willing to marry same-sex couples” writes Channel 6. Besides ushering in equality between homosexual and heterosexual unions, the legislation also leaves room for opponents inside the Church, priests who would perform these ceremonies, to follow their own conscience and not marry a same-sex pair. If the marriage law sails through Parliament, Denmark would join 10 other countries around the world that already allow people of the same sex to marry each other. Denmark is proving that even during a Europe-wide economic upheaval, and at a time when people are being asked to tighten their belts, there is still a will to continue with progressive social policies. In addition, the current Danish government has various plans to solve problems of modern families including extending family leave to fathers and establish a maternity/paternity fund for parents who are self-employed.
For years Denmark has been ahead of most of the world in terms of social and environmental policies but its rhetoric toward foreigners, especially Muslims, has come to be viewed as somewhat xenophobic. Although the two center-left political parties currently in power are less vocal about the appropriate level of assimilation that ought to be required for those from different cultures than the previous government of Lars Rasmussen, during the election campaign, even the leader of the Danish Socialist People’s Party lashed out at Muslims to not appear soft on the issue. It is no secret that in an age of growing multiculturalism, socially liberal but largely homogenous societies, will have to search deeper within themselves to strike a balance between respecting the rights of individuals to live their lives according to their own beliefs and maintaining a certain consensus on what it means to live in a free but diverse society. Perhaps the road to harmonious multicultural societies will be a long, bumpy road but nations that already make it possible for their own citizens or cultural majorities to enjoy the benefits of a progressive social construct may not be that far from a better tomorrow of acceptance and tolerance.