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Marriage Equality to come to Sweden in May 2009

Timothy Kincaid

November 7th, 2008

The coalition government of Sweden has been dancing around a way to bring about a change in marriage law to allow for same-sex couples without offending one part of their coalition, the Christian Democrats. Now a solution appears to have been found.

Sweden’s four-party centre-right government has been split on the issue, with the junior partner Christian Democrats also opposed to the use of the word “marriage” for homosexual unions.

However the three other parties, the conservative Moderates, the Liberals and the Centre Party, are in favour of a gender neutral law that eliminates the current reference to marriage as something between a man and a woman.

The opposition Social Democrats, the country’s biggest party, also support such a law, and together the parties would garner enough support to adopt the legislation in parliament.

The process will be for the coalition government to propose a marriage bill that does not have gender-neutrality and for the parties that support marriage equality to amend that bill. The Prime Minister predicts passage and implementation by next year:

“The coalition government has agreed that we will present a basic marriage bill to parliament. The three parties in favour of a gender neutral marriage law will then present an accompanying motion seeking to have such a law in place by May 1, 2009,” Reinfeldt said.

Sweden was one of the first countries to allow for Registered Partnerships in 1995. They will be the seventh nation to offer same-sex marriage rights:

2001 Netherlands
2003 Belgium
2005 Spain
2005 Canada
2006 South Africa
2009 Norway
2009 Sweden



Stefano A
November 7th, 2008 | LINK

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

Can you clarify something?

Because Sweden had a state church, for which they created the original “separate but equal” arrangement in 1995, other than for church ceremonies, haven’t all legal rights been the same for married couples regardless of sexual orientation?

That is, since Sweden separated the Lutheran Church from the state in 2000,
isn’t this more a matter of the state simply doing away with a symantic distinction rather than adding any government provided actual tangile benefits?

Please don’t misunderstand, this is not asked to understate the importance of doing away with the symantic distinction — of which I’m obviously all for — I’m just wondering if this actually adds any rights other than the right to have a church ceremony instead of only a church blessing ceremony?

From a US perspective I’m sure this will give the religious right conniptions as it will be seen as dictating to a church that they must perform gay weddings, although that’s not in reality what will happen.

However, the way I understood this, is that the government simply will no longer make any kind of distinction in symantics in defference to the church being able to reserve the word “marriage” for themselves, but no other actual rights have been granted to gays that weren’t already there is there?

November 7th, 2008 | LINK


Timothy Kincaid
November 7th, 2008 | LINK


As I understand it, the state and the church are not separate in the sense that they are in the US.

If I have this right (and I’m not sure that I do), currently same-sex couples fill out a registration form but are barred by law from having a religious ceremony. This does seem odd from my perspective, but there the church and the nation have been long intertwined.

In addition to changing the word, I believe that this would allow church weddings for those churches which wish to perform them. And I believe that others may decline to perform them if they do not wish to do so.

But perhaps others have more knowledge on Swedish marriage law.

November 7th, 2008 | LINK

over at Joe My God, Joe has put out a suggestion for another MARCH ON WASHINGTON. . .is it time?

Stefano A
November 7th, 2008 | LINK

As I understand it, the state and the church are not separate in the sense that they are in the US.

That was true in 1995 and until 2000. And while Sweden, as you mention, still does not make the same distinction between churh and state as does the US, as I mentioned, they have since 2000 separated the Lutheran Church (which was the state church) from the state.

Because prior to 2000 there was no separation between the Lutheran Church and the state, that was a large part in establishing the original “separate but equal” arrangement and the reason for allowing the church to maintain its reservation of the use of the term “marriage”.

However, because of that separation between the Luthern Church and the state in 2000, that is what now allows the state to not have to give defference to the Lutheran Church in order to establish the more neutral marital language.

If I have this right (and I’m not sure that I do), currently same-sex couples fill out a registration form but are barred by law from having a religious ceremony.

You have that right. Legally, because of the pre-2000 lack of separation of Church and state, gays and lesbians were restricted from having a religious church cermony and could only have civil ceremonies. But from what I understand, even then all other rights and priveleges were equal, including eventually adoption and parental rights.

In addition to changing the word, I believe that this would allow church weddings for those churches which wish to perform them. And I believe that others may decline to perform them if they do not wish to do so.

Yes, that is correct. They’re not changing the word per se, however, as much as doing away with the use of the word to distinguish familial relationships created by marriage; i.e., civil registrations will now also be considered a marriage, not something “other than”.

Note: To say this in a different way… I’m not sure that churches who wished to perform marriages could not do so, as in the US currently, only that it meant that the government would not recognize them as a marrital unit. The government would only recognize a homosexual marital unit if it were registered as a civil partnership.

Previously the church could only provide blessing ceremonies rather than marriage ceremonies for Gs &Ls by law because of the pre-2000 lack of separation of church and state that enabled the church to require the state to make that distinction. But as since 2000 there is a separation of the Lutheran Church from the state, the church can no longer dictate the law.

There is no requirement, however, that the church must perform a marriage ceremony in the new law, as you stated, only that they may and that if they do the government would now recognize that as it did the registered partnership previously without making a distinction.

But this is where it becomes hazy for me from a US perspective and ignorance of full understanding of Swedens church-state arrangement, and that is after 2000 how/why the church would be able to dictate anything regarding what the state did. Prior to 2000, i.e., when the Lutheran Church had not been separate from the state, I have a better grasp of the how and why.

My understanding is that the current introduction of the law and suggested amendment isn’t so much in order to work around any requirement to defer to the Church (as they had to do in the past – pre-2000) but as a conciliatory gesture to the Christian Democrat (and other political parties) political party specifically who considers the Church its major constituency.

I think it’s great that Sweden is attempting to do away with the dual system of separate and equal and amend the family law to remove the restriction on religious ceremonies of what is since 2000 an archaic requirement that before 2000 they had to make because the Lutheran Church was still part of the state and thus could dictate to the state on such matters and vice versa.

However, what I’m not sure about is that other than for that distinction of not recognizing gay marriages unless it was a civil ceremony if there was any other discrepancy in the “separate but equal” arrangement.

My understanding was that there was not. That the “ceremonial” rift (marriage ceremony vs civil ceremony – aka civil union – distinction for recognition) was the only aspect of tangible rights where it was not already “equal” in Sweden.

That is, as in Great Britain, this was the only thing that makes the distinction between a marriage or civil union, that it is in name recognition regarding the union only, but how in all other respects the legal “marital unit” is afforded the same rights and privileges regardless of what it is called or recognized by the state as.

(Caveat: although I think Sweden already afforded more equality than Great Britain, hence the current need in Great Britain for the House of Lords vote in favour of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, e.g. I’m not sure that would be required in Sweden.)

Hopefully someone can clarify this for both of us.

Christopher Aqurette
November 8th, 2008 | LINK

The Church of Sweden was part of the state until 2000, which meant bishops where picked by the government and priests were state officials. When civil unions were legalized in 1995, legislators made it strictly secular, meaning priests (as oppose to other state officials) were not obligated to perform civil union ceremonies. In fact, the original law prohibited them from doing so. The idea was not to provoke the conservative branch of the state church. However, the former state church got itself the most liberal leader imaginable, and soon demands for marriage equality came from within the church.

One thing that might be confusing for non-Swedes is that the tiny Christian Democratic Party is no friend of the large majority of Christian Swedes. They represent the 4% hardcore conservative Christians in this country. These are the people who never liked the state church and its liberal theology to begin with. (Historically, they are what is left of the rural Christian opposition to the state church that mostly immigrated to America in the 19th century.) Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly liberal government coalition needs this tiny party to get the required parliamentary majority to stay in power. There are seven parties in the Swedish Parliament; only the smallest opposes marriage equality. In other words: a massive majority is in favour of a marriage reform.

The proposed new law will turn all civil unions into marriage. There will be only one law for all. Although most original differences between marriages and civil unions are gone, some remain. For example, the requirement that one spouse be a Swedish national.

With the new law, the Church of Sweden will no longer have any restrictions in this area. Many priests seem eager to marry same-sex couple, but others will probably refuse. Since the Church of Sweden became independent, it lost its monopoly on religious marriage and all religious organizations were allowed the same rights. None of these organizations will be obligated to marry same-sex couples under the reformed marriage law, but a few of the smaller churches have expressed a wish to do so. In fact, some of them have argued that the soon-to-be outdated law do not respect the freedom of religion as some congregations, such as the Swedish Liberal Catholic Church, consider both traditional and same-sex marriage a sacrament (they refer to gender-blind practice of pre-medieval Catholicism).

I’m not sure I answered any of your questions. I got carried away as usual; answering questions no one asked, etcetera.

Stefano A
November 8th, 2008 | LINK

Christopher Aqurette

Thanks for the additional clarity on the Swedish church-state arrangement.

Also, thank you for correcting my misinformed perception about the constituency of the Christian Democrat Party.

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