Delegates of Sweden's largest church,
the Lutheran Church of Sweden, approved a plan Thursday to bless gay
marriages, the AFP reported.
Gay marriage became available in Sweden
on May 1 after Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill in April,
making it the seventh country to legalize gay marriage.
A large majority (70%) of the church's
synod, or church board, agreed to allow gay couples to marry in its
congregations from November 1. Pastors, however, have the discretion
to refuse to bless a marriage.
The Church of Sweden, which was the
state church until 2000, is the nation's largest church with 6.8
million members or nearly 75% of Swedes. While the church has
blessed civil unions for more than a decade, and supported the effort
to legalize gay marriage, some clergy wanted to preserve marriage for
The decision comes on the heels of a
controversial vote by U.S. Lutherans to accept partnered gay clergy
and a nod to pastors wanting to bless gay unions and marriages.
ELCA, the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, voted to adopt the
changes in August. Unhappy conservatives have since announced they
would explore ways to splinter from the church.
Likewise, conservative Episcopalians
are defecting to more orthodox denominations over similar gay issues,
including the blessing of gay marriages. Last week, the Pope said he
would embrace disgruntled Anglicans, which include Episcopalians, to
the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Father's offer includes
concessions that would allow Anglicans to keep some religious
The Swedish Federation for Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), the nation's largest gay
rights advocate, praised the move by the Lutheran Church.
“[We] congratulate the Church of
Sweden for its decision. [The Church's] homosexual and bisexual
members will finally be able to feel a little more welcome within
society,” the group said in a statement.
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in
Sweden called the Lutheran's decision “sad” and vowed not to
unite gay couples.
Gay marriage is legal in six other
countries including Spain, South Africa, Norway, the Netherlands,
Canada and Belgium. Six U.S. states – Connecticut, Maine,
Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire – currently offer
gay nuptials. Mainers will decide on November 3 whether to keep the
gay marriage law approved this spring by lawmakers.