German entrepreneur Alina Hepp-Chaudhary married her Indian husband, Bharat Chaudhary, in Denmark in 2016. However, this Scandinavian country was not their first choice: in Alina’s native Germany, international couples face a long, bureaucratic and expensive process to get married. . In India, on the other hand, Bharat and Alina were surprised by the widespread corruption that tarnishes the legality of marriage.
Losing hope in their two home countries, Alina and Bharat took the advice of a friend and chose to marry in Denmark instead. In just two weeks, the Danish authorities declared them husband and wife.
Surprised by the ease of the process, Alina decided to help other couples get married in Denmark as well. After working at the Indian Consulate in Hamburg for three years, she decided to consult professionally for those who were in similar situations like her. Today, she runs a consulting firm, through which she claims to receive 20 to 30 clients each month, largely made up of Indians, Pakistanis or homosexual couples.
In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to legally recognize same-sex couples who could register as domestic partners. This was replaced in 2012 by a law on same-sex marriage which came into force on June 15, 2012. Since then, this country has become a paradise for homosexual couples wishing to marry.
According to Statbank Denmark, in 2021, 428 same-sex marriages took place: 171 were between two men while 257 marriages were between two women.
As Danish marriage law does not distinguish between locals and foreigners, international couples have also started to flock to Denmark to get married with minimal bureaucratic hassle. This is not the case in other European countries such as Sweden or Germany or even in the United States or Canada, which require foreigners to have residency status in order to marry there.
Who “needs” a Danish wedding?
Pakistani citizen Gita Kirshan married her Indian husband Nitesh Naresh Bagda in August 2022. Both belong to the Maheshwari caste, a Hindu subgroup whose members today live in the western states of India and India. Pakistan, divided by the 1947 partition. Gita and Nitesh’s parents were able to organize this match thanks to the strong cross-border ties that the Maheshwaris continue to cherish to this day, Nitesh explained.
But given the factious political history the two countries share, Gita and Nitesh were aware of the chaos that awaited them. After all, it’s not every day that an Indian marries a Pakistani or vice versa.
Although he didn’t mind Gita’s nationality, Nitesh’s Indian friends weren’t too supportive of his choice and wondered why he “found a Pakistani out of all people to marry.”
A current resident of Canada, Nitesh remained unfazed. He said: “Relations between India and Pakistan have always been complicated. And there is very little hope for it to improve, so we had an idea of the bureaucratic difficulty. But we thought it wasn’t. wouldn’t be that important on an individual level. We were pretty sure that if I applied (for a Pakistani visa) from Toronto, it shouldn’t be difficult.
After several attempts to obtain visas from India and Pakistan, Gita and Nitesh gave up on the idea of getting married in either country. Gita explains, “We looked for countries with minimal bureaucratic procedures for marriage, and that’s how we came across Denmark. There you can get married even with a tourist visa!”
Alina noted the particularly difficult situation faced by Indo-Pakistani couples. She says, “I have seen firsthand how difficult it is for a Pakistani to get a visa for India. It is quite impossible. Not only is it hard for these couples to get married, but they can’t be so open about their relationship. Many couples keep their relationship a secret.
According to Nitesh, the problem is not the law, because “technically it is possible for an Indian and a Pakistani to marry”. It seems to be a combination of unspoken social norms, narratives of hyper-nationalism and corruption that make the task extremely difficult, if not impossible.
In such cases, Denmark offers an avenue for those who can afford a wedding in this country. As a member of the Hague Apostille Convention, the Danish marriage certificate is valid in over 120 countries, including India. This certificate is preferred by couples wishing to move abroad, as it is available in English, German, Danish, French and Spanish. For Pakistan, it is not automatically recognized, but requires legalization, which was not as painful as obtaining a visa was for Gita and Nitesh.
In July 2022, Pakistan applied to be a member of this convention, but no decision has been made yet.
Recognized for who you are
Unlike Gita and Nitesh, Tripti and Surbhi G.* could not imagine getting married in India even though they are both Indian citizens. For them, it wasn’t bureaucracy; it was the lack of legal provisions that hampered their married life.
In India, homosexuality has been decriminalized since 2018, but legal discussions on same-sex marriage are currently in court. The Delhi High Court is hearing several petitions on the one hand while parliamentarians are trying to debate amendments to the existing legal framework on the other hand.
But despite the decriminalization of same-sex relationships, Indian families are not on the same page and often pressure their children or express disappointment, Tripti says.
According to her, marrying Surbhi in Denmark was not only a matter of convenience, but also of social acceptance. She says, “We were already living together in India, but that makes it legal and easy too. You can officially call someone your partner. It looks different. happy moment for us because finally, someone somewhere recognized us at least.
For their parents, they are not “wife and wife”, but “just good friends” having moved to the United States together, by chance. Surbhi told DW, “We wanted to leave (India) because of course you don’t have life in India with respect.”
The Danish marriage certificate helped Tripti and Surbhi start a life together legally in a new country, where they feel accepted today.
Not affordable for everyone
Despite the benefits of getting married in Denmark, the reality is that not everyone can afford a week-long trip to one of Europe’s most expensive countries. Also, all payments related to the Danish wedding ceremony must be paid with European or international credit or debit cards, which are not easily accessible to people, Surbhi explains.
On average, getting married in Denmark can cost between €500 and €1,500, excluding visa fees, airfare and other additional expenses, bringing it to around €5,000.
But both Tripti and Surbhi are successful professionals who could afford to pay for the wedding. Most of Alina’s clients, like Gita and Nitesh, are also already in Europe or other Western countries or can afford such an expensive “destination wedding”.
This is why this Scandinavian wedding destination may not be an option for most other couples separated by law, bureaucracy or social stigma.
* Full names have not been released to protect the identities of interviewees.
Edited by Brenda Haas