Monday, 8 June 2009

Gender-neutral Act of Succession approved in Denmark

Final results show that the amendment to the Danish Act of Succession which aimed to introduce gender-neutral succession was passed in yesterday’s referendum. In Denmark it is not possible to make constitutional amendments unless 40 % of the total electorate vote yes in a referendum. Yesterday 58.5 % took part in the referendum, 85.4 % of them voted yes while 14.6 % voted no or cast blank votes, meaning that 45.5 % of the electorate approved of the change while 7.8 % of the total electorate voted against and 5.2 % cast blank votes. (in English)

This means that in the future the eldest child will come first in line of succession regardless of whether it is a boy or a girl, while the Act of Succession of 1953 gave royal sons precedence over their sisters. This will however not affect anyone currently in line of succession, as Queen Margrethe has two sons, Crown Prince Frederik had a son before a daughter and Prince Joachim has three sons. Princess Benedikte and Princess Elisabeth will also keep their places at the end of the line of succession.
The debate which suddenly arose in the last two weeks before the referendum has been quite interesting to follow. While a huge majority was in favour of the amendment, many took the opportunity to discuss several other issues which were not up for a vote. Among them was the future of the monarchy itself and republicans must have cherished this opportunity to have a serious debate about this issue which is very rarely discussed in Denmark these days.
In the end most of those who did not vote “yes” did so not because they were opposed to the change itself but because they were opposed to the monarchy, wanted a more far-reaching reform of the Constitution or because they saw no need to change the Act of Succession now when it will not alter the current line of succession.
In 1953 it did alter the line of succession dramatically which caused a lot of hard feelings within the royal family. Therefore it was a good thing to do it now that it could be treated as a question of principles and not as a choice between a prince and a princess.
Had the Act fallen in the referendum it would have reflected badly on Denmark as a country where gender equality is considered important and it would also have been embarrassing for the government, which had been criticised for holding the referendum together with the election to the European Parliament, which normally attracts few voters, rather than with the local elections in the autumn.
Now the government’s plan seems a success: The amendment was carried in the referendum and the referendum may also have attracted more voters to the EU elections than what has previously been the case earlier – 59.5 % took part in the European election against 47.89 % in 2004. The fact that there was a real debate in the last few weeks probably also helped saving the Act of Succession, which might have fallen if fewer had turned out to vote and the yes votes had been less than 40 % of the electorate. So in the end it seems to have been a good day for almost everyone.
Perhaps expect for the royal family? In Berlingske Tidende the historian Jes Fabricius Møller says that the many votes against the amendment must be interpreted as an expression of dissatisfaction with the royal family and that this means harder times ahead for them:

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