Lutheran Church of Sweden votes to allow gay couples to marry in church

The Synod of the Lutheran Church of Sweden voted this morning to allow gay couples to marry in church. The decision by the Synod puts the Church of Sweden means it is the first major denomination to allow gays to marry in church. The proposal was approved by 176 of 249 voting members with 22 voting against and 16 abstentions.

In June, the church board took the first step towards permitting same-sex marriages by submitting a petition to the Church of Sweden Synod. The board proposed that the church continue to perform wedding ceremonies following new legislation which came into force on May 1st and grants same-sex couples in Sweden the same legal marriage status as heterosexuals. Current church regulations are likely to continue to apply, with some alterations, such as replacing “man and wife” with “lawfully wedded spouses” when a gay couple is married. Individual pastors would also still be able to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

In January 2007 the church began offering blessings to gay couples and actively welcomed LGBT clergy.

Gay marriage became legal in Sweden on May 1st, allowing couples to wed in religious or civil ceremonies. Six of the seven political parties in Swedish parliament backed the proposal to introduce a gender-neutral marriage law. The only party to it were the Christian Democrats, who said they wanted to maintain “a several hundred-year-old concept” of marriage.

Åsa Regnér, head of the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) – the country’s largest gay rights group, said in a statement: “The Synod’s decision takes a stance in favour of an inclusive view of people. Regardless of whether one is religious or not, this affects the entire social climate and the view of people’s equal value.”

Representatives from the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Sweden were disappointed by the decision. Vicar Fredrik Emanuelson of the Catholic Church and Father Misha Jaksic, coordinator of the family of Orthodox Churches at the Christian Council of Sweden (CCS), issued a joint statement which said: “It is with great sorry that we receive news that the Church of Sweden’s Synod has today decided to wed same-sex couples that it will be referred to as marriage. This is a step backwards, not only from Christian tradition, but also from all of the major world’s religions views of what marriage is. We don’t wed same-sex couples in our churches and faith communities because doing so stands in clear opposition to the church’s tradition and to our entire view of creation.”

In approving the decision to perform same-sex marriages, the Church of Sweden also ignored concerns expressed earlier this year by the Church of England in a strongly worded letter from Christopher Hill, bishop of Guildford and John Hind, bishop of Chichester, to Swedish archbishop Anders Wejryd. The letter said that such a move could lead to “an impairment of the relationships between the churches”.

Church of England spokesperson Steve Jenkins confirmed that relations between the two churches may be headed for a turbulent phase in the wake of the decision. “Those concerns remain,” he said.

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