Partnership yes but marriage no, Swedish church tells gays

By staff writers
23 Mar 2007

The Church of Sweden, the largest national church in the Lutheran World Federation, says it will oppose a recommendation made on 21 March by a one-person commission to the country's government that laws should be passed to enable homosexual couples to marry - writes Peter Kenny from Lund for ENI.

"We support the view that matrimony is between a man and a woman. This is a commonly accepted definition acceptable to most societies and religions," Archbishop Anders Wejryd, the Church of Sweden primate (leader), told Ecumenical News International before addressing a media conference on the issue.

"The Church of Sweden of course will continue to give its blessing to same sex couples in partnerships, as we have done for some time. Same sex couples in committed, faithful relationships are entitled to God's blessing," said the archbishop, who took his place at the helm of the church in 2006.

The Swedish government on 21 March released a report conducted by a commission of inquiry into marriage and partnerships, to which churches and other faiths were able to comment. Clerics from a number of religions can legally conduct marriages under Swedish law.

"This is a start," Wejryd told journalists, as he explained that the Swedish church wanted to enhance the legal framework for people living in fidelity in same sex relationships. "There are positive things in this report. Our main criticism is with the terminology."

The release of the commission's report is the start of a consultation process.

Despite saying matrimony is only for heterosexual couples, the Church of Sweden, which was a pacesetter in granting a special blessing for same sex couples, has faced considerable criticism from some other Lutheran churches, particularly those in African countries.

The timing of the report also coincides with the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the LWF in 1947, in Lund, the southern Swedish city where a meeting of the 66.7 million-strong federation's main governing body is taking place.

The general secretary of the LWF, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, a Zimbabwean theologian, urged the federation's member churches to engage in dialogue on the issues of "marriage, family and sexuality in an inclusive manner" in order to avoid making it a church-dividing issue.

Nearly 500 participants, including 105 church leaders from around the world, are expected at the 20 to 27 March events hosted by the Church of Sweden and its Diocese of Lund. "Living in Communion in the World Today" is the theme of the gathering.

Archbishop Wejryd said that churches, and especially Lutheran ones, always engaged in strong debate about changing attitudes on once-established norms such as slavery, circumcision or women clergy, and he expected churches to do so on issues around the family, relationships and sexuality.

Ekklesia adds: The issue of changing understandings of marriage and relationships, and the post-Christendom distinction between what the church blesses and what the state arranges or sanctions (legally and financially) was raised in What Future For Marriage?. This suggested that the state (in the UK) might offer a range of civil partnerships instead of a one-size-fits-all version of marriage, taking the state out of the role of defining what is and is not 'marriage'. It also urged the churches to renew and deepen their own practices, both pastorally and theologically. The question about whether gay partnerships should be deemed marriage has also been hotly debated within LGBT communities.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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