Swedish church to allow gay marriages

UPPSALA, Sweden Thu Oct 22, 2009 8:37pm IST

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UPPSALA, Sweden (Reuters) - Sweden's Lutheran church decided on Thursday to conduct gay weddings in the Nordic country from next month.

"We are the first major church to do this," said Kristina Grenholm, the church's director of theology. The decision came after the Swedish parliament earlier this year passed legislation allowing homosexuals to legally marry, changing a previous law permitting legal unions but not formal marriage.

"For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathise with the many who believe this has gone too fast," Archbishop of Sweden Anders Wejryd told a news conference.

The church said in a statement it would begin wedding same-sex couples on Nov. 1.

Sweden's Lutheran church, which split from the state in 2000 but remains the country's largest religious community, had previously said it was open to registering same-sex unions but wanted to reserve the term matrimony for heterosexual marriages.

The new legislation, which came into force on May 1, eliminated legal distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual spouses, but does not force dissenting clergy to wed gay couples.

A church official said individual priests would still not be required to perform gay marriages. However, local churches would have to ensure that they could wed same-sex couples, if necessary bringing in an outside priest to perform the ceremony.

Some within the church have opposed introducing gay marriage, saying it contravenes scripture. Half of Swedish couples get married in church, though regular church attendance is very low.

(Reporting by Ilze Filks; writing by Niklas Pollard; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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