Thursday, 22 October 2009

Gay Marriage – in Church: Sweden

It’s been a long time coming, but has been expected ever since same – sex marriage was approved by the Swedish parliament back in May this year – immediately before the news from Iowa.  As I predicted at the time, the Swedish Lutheran Church has now approved church weddings for gay and lesbian couples.   The interesting part of this to me is that although individual pastors are not obliged to perform same sex ceremonies, local churches do not have the same opt-out:  all churches must be available to all couples.  If the resident pastor won’t do it, a substitute must be brought in from elsewhere.

Bridegrooms on Church Steps

Once again, this advance has come after discussion that began much earlier, before the church approved “blessing of homosexual partnerships years ago.”  In so doing, the majority of the church discounted the traditional view that such partnerships were somehow “against Scripture”.  This is another very welcome step in the defanging of that fallacious argument. (See “Countering the Clobber Texts”)

One of the most delicate issues of the protestant Swedish church in modern times has been resolved on Thursday: A majority of members of the national church organization board voted for performing clerical marriage rites for same-sex partners.…..
Bishop Martin Lind from Linköping is one of the liberals in the church leadership. He told Swedish Radio that the discussion preceding Thursday's decision had begun much earlier and had led to the blessing of homosexual partnerships years ago:

"When we said yes to life-long homosexual love we said yes to the decisive part of it all. What is happening now is primarily a question of terminology: Can this also be called marriage?"

from DNA:

"We are the first major church to do this," said Kristina Grenholm, the church's director of theology. The decision came after the Swedish parliament earlier this year passed legislation allowing homosexuals to legally marry, changing a previous law permitting legal unions but not formal marriage.

"For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathise with the many who believe this has gone too fast," archbishop of Sweden Anders Wejryd told a news conference.

The church said in a statement it would begin wedding same-sex couples on November 1.


A church official said individual priests would still not be required to perform gay marriages. However, local churches would have to ensure that they could wed same-sex couples, if necessary bringing in an outside priest to perform the ceremony.

The importance of this is twofold.  First, although there are denominations and single congregations in a range of localities around the world which already accept different forms of marriage or blessing ceremonies without discrimination, this is the first time that a major church will be conducting marriages on the same basis for all, and have them recognised by the state. (Previously, the Swedish Lutherans were happy to register gay couples, but wanted to reserve the word “marriage” for the heterosexual variety.)

The second reason this is important is that Europe today has become extremely porous to both people and ideas. The principle of gay marriage or civil unions is spreading steadily across the EU (even into some countries of the former Soviet bloc).  Travelling between the EU states is not as simple as the short drive from Maine into Vermont or Canada, but there is a lot of movement for travel or employment. As church – married Swedish male couples and female couples spread across Europe in the months and years following November 1st, the principle will seem more and more natural to many of hose who currently oppose it.  Taken together with the earlier ECLA decision in the US, there will certainly be an impact also on other Lutheran communities, in the US, in Europe and elsewhere, and on other denominations with similar theology.  Even months in advance of this decision, conservative Anglican Bishops in the UK expressed  concerns that this decision would put pressure on the Anglican communion.  So it will.

In other news today, Germany's High Court has made a ruling which will strengthen the case in that country for full gay marriage:
Germany’s high court strengthened the rights of gay couples on Thursday, ruling that government employees with registered civil unions are entitled to the same pension plans as married couples.
"I see this as a very big step for the equality of homosexual marriage not only for employee pensions, but in many other areas too,” the Hamburg man’s lawyer Dirk Siegfried said.
Green party MP Volker Beck called the decision a “conclusive breakthrough."
In time, this will surely lead to the full acceptance of gay marriage by the german state - and later by the German Lutheran church.

Gay Marriage –coming to a church near you.

Further reading ( on Scripture and Homosexuality):

Coulton, N: The Bible, the Church and Homosexuality

Countryman, WL: Dirt, Greed and Sex

Helminiak, D: What the Bible really Says about Homosexuality
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