Sweden officially approves gender neutral marriage

By staff writers
April 3, 2009

The Swedish parliament has backed a proposal to introduce a gender-neutral marriage law, becoming the fifth European country to do so. The Church of Sweden says it will bless same-sex unions but will not call them marriages.

The proposal passed on Wednesday 1 April with a 261 to 22 vote in favour and 16 abstentions.

Of the seven parties represented in the parliament, the only one to oppose the ruling was the Christian Democrats, who want to maintain "a several hundred-year-old concept" of marriage.

Since the Church of Sweden has been disestablished, the new law will not directly affect church marriage ceremonies and procedures.

In February 2009, a majority of Church of Sweden bishops said the church should no longer handle legal marriage registrations.

The church does not require pastors who object to same-sex marriage to bless these unions, but these pastors are a minority.

The new legislation comes into effect on 1 May 2009, replacing the current 1995 legislation approving registered civil partnerships.

Couples with a 'registered partnership' may either retain this status or apply to the relevant authorities to have it amended.

A poll for the Sifo Institute published in January 2008 found that 71 per cent of Swedes thought that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

In January 2007 the Church of Sweden, which was disestablished in 2000, began offering religious blessings to gay unions and actively welcomed LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) clergy.

The Lutheran denomination claims some 7 million members out of a population of 9 million, though nominal commitment is not reflected in active practice which is very low.

In 2008 the Church of Sweden agreed that marriage and partnership were equivalent forms of unions, but for historical and some theological reasons (connected with the possibility of procreation) recommended that the term "marriage" should be used for heterosexual couples.

Other countries with legal same-sex marriage are the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Canada (also 2005), South Africa (2006) and Norway (2008).

Some US states (including California and Washington state) and local authorities in other countries have similar laws.

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