Earlier this year, I married my Danish husband. Unfortunately, Brexit, Covid and Danish
immigration age rules came together as a toxic cocktail that impacted our love story.
Photographs: Heather Storgaard
Text: Heather Storgaard
The 'age rule' is a Danish immigration law that means both partners have to be older than 24 years to be eligible for a family reunification visa. The supposed focus of this rule is protecting child brides.
Country style wedding
When we first talked about marriage, the idea was to get married at the Old Town Hall in Ebeltoft. We wished to get married with a Danish language ceremony, and it's where my parents-in-law tied the knot. In Germany, where we lived at the time, Denmark was seen as an idyllic wedding destination, with simpler marriage laws and lower costs. However, that was all to change shortly afterwards, with new marriage laws that pushed up costs and bureaucracy, especially for non-resident internationals.
One summer, I showed a visiting friend Ebeltoft's Town Hall. A man working there showed us a glass apple that the council gifts couples upon marriage. Suddenly, the man slammed the case and told us we would not receive apples because we were "aliens". Slightly shocked, I told him that my partner was a local Dane. At this point, I was bluntly informed of the 24-years rule, preventing me from accessing family reunification rights. Furthermore, without already living in the country, which I didn't have the right to due to the rules, I was told that the documentation I would have to submit to get married in Ebeltoft could take a long time to process, cost high none-refundable fees and was unlikely to be accepted.
"None Danish friends are shocked when I mention Denmark's harsh laws."
Not your average wedding
Last winter, during the worst of the pandemic, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. He was successfully operated on but was having chemotherapy and avoiding risky socialising until the summer. Unfortunately, vaccines are less effective for people with low immune responses, which means that even the long-awaited jabs didn't remove our worries.
We, however, had a wedding date in Scotland in the spring. We knew the guest list would be tiny, and until the week before, it was even doubtful if my England-based parents would be allowed to cross the border. There was absolutely no way we could risk my father-in-law on public transport, a flight and ten days of quarantine.
We got married with views of the Forth Bridge, a thistle and heather bouquet and my husband wearing a kilt. Unfortunately, I knocked over the cake, my husband got a parking ticket, and our Norwegian friend misspelt his own name on the witness register, but wouldn't life be dull without mishaps?
It did, however, feel wrong to be lacking the usually ever-present celebratory Dannebrog, our many Danish friends and Danish traditions. Of course, the biggest gap in our wedding was my father-in-law. He didn't get to see his only child get married thanks to Denmark's age-discriminatory immigration and marriage laws. My husband had no family at his wedding.
The future of marriage in Denmark
Denmark is considered a progressive and aspirational country throughout the world. None Danish friends are shocked when I mention Denmark's harsh laws, and for the most part, our Danish friends are highly ignorant of them. We are often asked why we don't live in the country full time or, highly ironically, if we got married for visa purposes. Nowadays, I bluntly tell enquiring Danes "regeringen siger, jeg er barnebrud" (the government says I'm a child-bride).
In 2019 Lars Løkke Rasmussen, former prime minister of Denmark, explained in parliament that his son was caught up in the 24-years rule, meaning he couldn't live in Denmark. PM Mette Frederiksen answered simply: she was not going to change anything. It feels strange to question myself if I'm allowed to be in love with a Dane? It's an absurd sounding question and one I've been forced to grapple with during my journey in Denmark – let's hope this changes over time.