Inquiry gives green light to gay marriage

Sweden should allow same-sex couples to marry, an official inquiry has concluded. But gay rights campaigners are angry that the proposals would allow priests to refuse to perform gay weddings, while many religious groups argue that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.

Presenting his report on Wednesday, Hans Regner, formerly Sweden’s most senior government lawyer, said that gay couples should be able to wed and to be legally regarded as spouses. The current law permitting registered partnerships for same-sex couples should be revoked, he said.

Regner argued that the arguments in favour of changing the law outweighed the arguments against.

“We have to a large extent abolished discrimination against homosexuals. This is the last bastion,” Regner told a press conference in Stockholm on Wednesday afternoon.

Regner said a new law should retain the word marriage (‘äktenskap’) rather than replacing it with a term such as partnership. Marriage has been the normal term for many centuries, and replacing it would be seen as unnecessary by many, he argued.

Churches and other faith groups should retain their right to conduct marriages, but the Church of Sweden will should no longer have the right as a matter of course.

“People attach great importance to the fact that their weddings have certain ceremonies, and that they are festive,” he said.

In future, individual priests in the Church of Sweden should be forced to apply for the right to marry parishoners, just as is already the case for their counterparts in other churches and non-Christian religions in Sweden.

There would be no obligation under the proposals for priests to officiate at the weddings of gay couples. The report said that a requirement to do so would lead to many priests and other religious leaders giving up their right to conduct marriages. Such a development would lead in practice to a situation in which most weddings were conducted in civil ceremonies.

Regner admitted that the lack of an obligation on the part of religious groups to marry gay couples could lead to problems.

But. he said, “it is possible that certain priests and religious groups will marry homosexuals,” he said, pointing to the Jewish Board of Deputies, which according to Regner sees no problem in carrying out gay marriages for members of the Jewish community.

The Church of Sweden has said that it intends to carry out legally binding ceremonies for gay couples, but that individual priests would be allowed to refuse to officiate.

However, Archbishop Anders Wejryd said on Wednesday that the church could issue a blanket refusal to carry out the ceremonies if a new law referred to the partnerships as marriage (äktenskap in Swedish).

Wejryd said that discussions within the church were still ongoing, but that the current line was that the word ‘marriage’ should be reserved for heterosexual partnerships.

Regner responded to the church’s line by saying that “they can call things what they like. All this is about is what is said in the wedding ceremony,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden has said it will not wed gay couples, claiming that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

The church’s Per Samuelsson wrote in a memorandum that the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman is shared by all major world cultures and belongs to “humanity’s cultural inheritance.” He added that marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

Representatives of the Church of Sweden and the Swedish Mission Covenant Church had said in their submissions to the inquiry that the marriage act was not a sacrament in their traditions, although added that it has certain elements that resemble a sacrament.

Swedish gay rights organization RFSL slammed the proposal that priests could refuse to marry gay couples.

“They are proposing that it should be possible to discriminate. Churches and religious groups are to be allowed to refuse, and we are critical of that,” said chairman Sören Andersson.

“You can’t pick and choose from Swedish law,” he said.

The Left Party, Green Party and the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party agreed, saying that people licensed to officiate at weddings should have a duty to marry any couple legally allowed to wed, including gay couples.