Paradise regained?

[Bragt i PAN, Homoguide to Denmark, LBL 1998]

By Søren Laursen, LBL

The past 50 years have witnessed a significant development in the situation of homosexuals in our society. Through the years, the Association has worked both in reaction to its surroundings and as an initiator in breaking new ground. In Denmark we have reached the point where lesbians and gays enjoy practically the same legal conditions as other citizens. The Registered Partnership Act, passed in 1989 and the first of its kind in the world, is a manifestation of the recognition of our status.

The fact that we have achieved results does not, however, mean that tolerance is now unlimited. It merely means that the boundary markers have been moved. While our previous fight was for the rights of the individual, today our struggle has taken on a new area, namely matters concerning homosexual families. As in other parts of the world, the focus today in Denmark is on the possibilities available for starting families – for having children – WITHOUT having to sell out on one’s sexual identity.

While we in Denmark are accustomed to the majority in parliament passing better and more accommodating legislation regarding homosexuals, we lost a battle in 1997 for the first time since the 1960’s. In the new Act on Assisted Fertilization, a section was introduced that requires that a woman must be married or live in a marriage-like partnership with a man in order to receive fertilization treatment. In other words, the law discriminates based on family type. It is regrettable that such a social criterion has become part of a law that otherwise set limits on socalled “monster” research.

It is important that we not overlook the significance of the very extensive debate that has arisen because of this legislation. There has been a certain tendency to make light of the problem. That happened already in the beginning of the nineties. When the Registered Partnership Act was passed, issues surrounding the status of children were not included. At that time, we thought it was just a matter of a few years before those “details” would be settled. Today we know that there is a significant number of members of parliament who are against giving lesbian and gay parents the official stamp of approval. And this opposition has been clearly expressed during the debate, both in the press and in parliament, that has held long debates on the matter.

Another problem concerning children is that a homo-couple cannot have joint parental custody of the children that they are raising together, because they don’t have the possibility of adopting their step-children. This has many serious consequences: the non-biological parent can have neither maternity leave, parental leave, nor time off for child care; the non-biological parent does not have visiting rights in the event that the relationship ends nor can he/she gain custody of the child if the biological parent dies; the child cannot inherit the non-biological parent under the same conditions as the biological parent. All these situations arise because the authorities do not recognize homo-couples as parents. No, that is not quite correct – when calculating the amount of public subvention paid to families with small children, the homosexual partner’s income is included in the total for the household, because a parent is not considered single when he/she lives in relationship that could be fall under the category of either marriage or registered partnership!

There are other areas in the Registered Partnership Act in which distinctions are made between homosexual and heterosexual couples – for example, there are additional, more restrictive requirements for citizenship and residency for lesbians and gays than for heterosexual couples.

Even today, society is still deciding what status gays and lesbians ought to enjoy, and lines are being drawn.

LBL is tackling the problems that confront us, putting them on the agenda, creating exposure for the issues, and demanding that society be held accountable for its actions and opinions. We have been doing this for 50 years. It has cost the blood, sweat, and tears of many who through the years have worked for the cause – who have worked to create opportunities for homophiles, homosexuals, gays, and lesbians, and whatever else we have called ourselves. We have worked for the idea that although we and the society around us consider our sexual identity (identities) as different from that of the majority, this fact should not cause the heterosexual standard to be used to determine that our opportunities should be different from theirs.