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Church of Sweden gives gay couples church blessing

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18:01 CET+01:00
Gays in Sweden will as of January be able to receive religious blessings of their same-sex unions, the Swedish Lutheran Church decided on Wednesday, but stopped short of allowing gay marriages.

"Same-sex couples can now receive an official church blessing in the Swedish Church," the church said.

Sweden allows gay couples the same rights as married couples, but the law still defines gay unions as "partnerships", not "marriages".

The Church board said couples who had entered into legal civil unions would be able to hold a wedding-like ceremony in the church, which would not however include an exchange of vows.

The church is by law not allowed to officiate civil unions.

A government-appointed committee is currently examining whether Sweden ought to change a 1987 marriage law to make it "gender neutral", eliminating the last distinction between heterosexual marriages and homosexual unions.

Gays were in February 2003 granted the right to adopt children.

While some church ministers have already agreed to bless same-sex unions, gay couples have so far not been ensured the official right to a blessing in the Lutheran Church, which until 2000 was a state institution.

It still counts 7.2 million members out of a population of nine million.

Individual priests may decline to perform the blessing, but the congregation will be responsible for ensuring that a blessing is provided.

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