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Church weddings for gays soon a reality in Sweden

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10:58 CEST+02:00
Sweden, already a pioneer in giving same-sex couples the right to adopt children, looks set to allow gays to marry in the Lutheran Church, with plans to introduce a new marriage law in January 2008.

If the so-called "gender neutral" marriage legislation is adopted, the Scandinavian country would become the first in the world to allow gays to marry within a major church.

Other countries only allow gays to hold civil ceremonies.

Sweden's current law from 1987 defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The new law would strike any reference to gender.

While heterosexuals can currently marry in either a civil ceremony or a church ceremony, homosexuals are only allowed to register their partnerships in a civil ceremony.

"I think it would be great if the Swedish law passed. In changing the law everybody could be equal in the eyes of the law," Sören Andersson of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights told AFP.

"It's a kind of a revolution in a way. Because when you look at the big Swedish Church, if you would have asked it five years ago it would probably have said 'no we would not accept this'," he added.

The Lutheran Church, which was separated from the state in 2000, has since January 2007 offered gays a religious blessing of their union.

Some pastors are ready to go further and marry gay couples.

"If today we are blessing homosexuals, I see no reason not to celebrate gay marriages," pastor Arne Wikström of the Oscars parish in central Stockholm said.

"I think all people are equal before God. And no man is unholy or unblessed. We are all equal and all need God's blessings in our lives," he said.

"If God has created people as homosexuals, we must accept them and we must bless them," he added.

On the political side, six of the seven parties represented in parliament have indicated that they are in favour of gay weddings. They are now pressuring the centre-right government to push through the new legislation.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, of the conservative Moderate Party, is in favour of a new law though some members of his party are against it.

The Christian Democrats, a junior member of the coalition, is the only party firmly opposed.

Sweden has since 1995 allowed gays and lesbians the right to civil unions, granting them the same legal status as married couples.

But gay and lesbian associations have long been pushing for the last distinction between heterosexual marriages and homosexual unions to be eliminated.

The issue took a leap forward on March 21st when an independent committee, tasked with studying the issue by the former Social Democratic government recommended the adoption of a new gender neutral marriage law.

The Lutheran Church, which has 7.2 million members out of a population of 9.1 million, said in an initial reaction that it preferred the term "marriage" be reserved for heterosexual unions.

It also said it wanted pastors to be free to choose whether or not to perform a gay marriage ceremony.

However, the Church has yet to take a definitive stand on the issue.

"The official state report is right now under consideration. There will be an answer from the Church during the late autumn," Church spokeswoman Annika Sjöqvist Platzer told AFP.

In the meantime, pastors say they have not been flooded with requests from gays for religious blessings of their civil unions, since most gay couples prefer to wait and see if a new marriage law will enter into force in January.

AFP/Delphine Touitou

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