Swedish Lutherans Approve Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 22, 2009

An Oct. 22 vote among the Lutheran leadership in Sweden brought marriage equality to the faithful of that denomination.

The church will now bless the unions of same-sex families as well as mixed-gender couples, reported English language Swedish online new service The Local that same day.

The measure originated in June with a petition from the governing board of the Church of Sweden, and was approved by the Lutheran Synod, with a majority 176 votes out of the 249 voting members. The vote took place just three days after the thirtieth anniversary of the removal of homosexuality from the list of pathologies in Sweden.

The decision also follows in the wake of marriage equality being granted to gay and lesbian Swedish families by the Swedish government. The new law took effect last May.

The article quoted Swedish GLBT leader sa Regnr, who heads the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education; said Regnr, "The Synod's decision takes a stance in favor 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."

Pastors opposed to performing marriages for same-sex couples may opt out, the article said. But the shift is not as seismic as it might at first seem: the church has offered its blessing to same-gender couples for the past two years.

Even so, some voiced disappointment at the result of the vote. The article quoted a Catholic clergyman, Vicar Frefdrik Emanuelson, and Father Misha Jaksic, of the family of Orthodox Churches at the Christian Council of Sweden, as saying, "It is with great sorry [sic] 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."

The clerics' joint statement continued to lambast the Lutherans' extension of marriage rites, reading, "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."

The article noted that the Lutheran church had also been pressured by the Church of England not to approve the measure, with a letter from two Church of England bishops warning that granting equal marriage status to faithful gay and lesbian families might lead to "an impairment of the relationships between the churches."

"Those concerns remain" in the wake of the vote, the article quoted Steve Jenkins, a spokesperson for the Church of England, as saying.

The Church of England has faced deep divisions that threatened the global unity of the Anglican faith following the 2003 ordination of openly gay U.S. Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson. That ordination added stress to divisions within the Anglican community that had already developed over the question of female clergy.

In the United States, Lutherans, like many other denominations, found the issue of gay and lesbian church members and pastors to be a troubling one. An Oct. 7 article in the Forest Lake Times noted that the issue was part of the program during August's grand assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA), which took place in Minneapolis.

The ECLA meeting led to the adoption of new policies for U.S. Lutheran chruches that allow gay clergy who are in committed relationships to serve the church. Conservative elements promptly called for a separation from the mainstream church, a Sept. 27 Associated Press article reported. A vote on the matter led to a cooling-off period of a year before such definitive action might be taken; already, however, some were speaking about fractures within their faith community. The Forest Lake Times quoted Rev. Jaynan Clark, whose Word Alone Network had opposed allowing non-celibate clergy to serve the church. Said Clark, "We fought the good fight. Unfortunately, now we are a divided institution."

Others were less dramatic in their pronouncements, steering away from talk of schism. Said Al Quie, formerly governor of Minnesota, "I was opposed to this, too, but that's my problem. You can't say now that you're going to leave the church. We have to live with this change for a while and see how it works out."

ECLA head Bishop Mark Swanson sounded a similar note, saying after the vote, "I am mindful this is a very difficult day for those who did not support the prevailing positions. And it's going to take some time to sort out how we will live together in the light of these decisions. But it would be tragic if we walked away from one another."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.