30th anniversary: world’s first same-sex civil unions

denmark same-sex couple civil union marriage equality Axel and Eigil Axgil
Photo: Rex Wockner/Peter Tatchell Foundation

October 1 marked the 30th anniversary of the world’s first same-sex civil unions, granted in Denmark.

Denmark’s “registered partnerships” gave same-sex couples very similar rights as heterosexual ones, with the exception of adopting or sharing joint custody of a child.

The Danish parliament passed the bill by a majority of 71-47 after decades of campaigning by Danish civil rights activists.

And on October 1, 1989, Axel and Eigil Axgil (pictured) became one of eleven Danish same-sex couples to receive legal recognition.

Eigil said ahead of the 1989 ceremony at Copenhagen Town Hall, “We just never could have dreamed we would get this far.”

The two Denmark men also had a message for campaigners in other countries.

“Be open. Come out. Keep fighting,” Eigil said.

“This is the only way to move anything. If everyone comes out of the closet then this will happen everywhere.”

The couple combined their surnames in lieu of same-sex marriage

Axel founded the pioneering gay rights group now known as LGBT Danmark in 1948. He met his husband Eigil at one of the group’s meetings.

In 1949, the pair published the first edition of Vennen (Friend), a newspaper featuring homoerotic content that was illegal at the time.

The couple got engaged in 1950. The men combined their first names into a new surname, Axgil, as an act of defiance.

After the historic 1989 unions in Denmark, several other countries followed in the next decade, including Norway and Sweden.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001.

But sadly, Eigil and Axel didn’t live to see full marriage equality in their own country. Denmark did not legalise it until 2012.

Eigil Axgil died in 1995, and Axel died in 2011.

Now, 28 countries around the world recognise same-sex marriages, including Australia since 2017.

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