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It’s 30 years since Denmark made history and became the first country to introduce civil partnerships for same-sex couples

Emma Powys Maurice October 1, 2019

Axel Axgil (R) and Eigil Axgil became the first registered same-sex partners in the world. (KELD NAVNTOFT/AFP/Getty)

History was made 30 years ago on October 1, 1989, when Denmark became the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to tie the knot.

The trailblazing move was the culmination of a 40 year campaign by Danish civil rights activists, and it would spearhead the equal marriage movement for decades to come.

‘Registered partnerships’, as they were then known, gave same-sex couples almost all the same rights as heterosexual ones, with the exception of adopting or sharing joint custody of a child.

The Danish bill was passed by an overwhelming majority of 71-47. The opposition came mainly from the small Christian People’s Party which called the legislation unnatural, unethical and dramatically at odds with the laws of other countries.

But this, too, would change: just three years later, Norway would follow Denmark’s lead with a similar registered partnership bill, as would Sweden in 1994 and Iceland and Greenland in 1996.

Taiwan recently became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty)

The move towards full same-sex marriages began with the Netherlands in 2000. But the LGBT+ community will never forget that day in 1989 when 11 Danish same-sex couples were legally wed with the eyes of the world on them.

The very first were were Axel and Eigil Axgil, who were 74 and 67 years old at the time and have now sadly passed away. The second were Ivan and Ove Carlsen, who recalled the unforgettable day in an interview with AFP.

“It was a pioneering act to get married that day,” said Ivan. “It was a ceremony that takes place every day at city hall. But for us, for the first time in history two men could experience this ceremony.”

Ove and Ivan Carlsen (left) were the second same-sex couple to marry in Denmark (Francis Dean/Corbis/Getty)

“We thought it was necessary to talk about what was happening in Denmark, to spread the message: it’s OK and it was possible,” Ove said.

Ivan, a Lutheran pastor, had met Ove, a psychologist, three and a half years earlier. Both dressed in cream-coloured suits, with Ove wearing a pink bow tie and Ivan wearing a blue one.

“We had been told that you can have 25 guests with you at city hall,” said Ivan. “We had three.”

“Because of the journalists,” his husband added.

Ivan and Ove married again in 2012 when full marriages were offered to same-sex couples. The pair are now enjoying their retirement in a cosy Copenhagen apartment they share together.

They may have been the first gay couple to marry but they are far from the last – today same-sex marriages are legal in 28 countries, with a further 16 recognising civil partnerships. 

More: Civil partnerships, Denmark, registered partnerships, same sex marriage

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