Norway’s bishops have given the go-ahead to gay church weddings after a poll described by campaigners as an “historic breakthrough”. The vote will need to be ratified by the church synod next spring, but paves the way for the first gay weddings to take place in Norwegian churches in 2017.
On Friday the country’s 12 bishops met to vote on the creation of a special liturgy for the marriage of same sex couples, deciding unanimously to give it the go-ahead, The Local has reported. Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien, praeses of the Norwegian Bishops’ Conference, announced the decision to the press, saying: “This is a very important day for the church.”
The announcement was welcomed by gay marriage campaigners from the Open People’s Church, which has been pushing for this outcome. Sturla Stålsett, leader of the campaign commented: “It is a historic breakthrough that a bishops’ meeting unanimously recommends equal marriage in church.”
Norway legalised gay marriage in 2008, but left it up to the church to develop an official liturgy to enable gay weddings to take place in churches. Until now that had been a sticking point, as church leaders failed to reach agreement on the matter.
In 2013, the last time the bishops voted on the issue, they were split eight to four in favour of adopting the liturgy, so opted instead to back a simple blessing service as a compromise to avoid splitting the church.
But in September, a national ballot to select delegates for the governing body of the church, known as the Kirkemøte, resulted in the election of a massive majority of pro-gay marriage delegates, with those favouring gay marriage outnumbering those against by two to one.
The result was in large part due to the Open People’s Church, which had campaigned in favour of pro-gay marriage delegates. Thanks to the campaign, the church recorded its highest ever voter turnout, at 17 per cent.
In light of the result, the Bishops set up a special meeting to readdress the issue and have decided to heed the message coming from the electorate, and open the door to gay church weddings.
“There are different perceptions of marriage among same sex couples both in the Norwegian Church and among the bishops. But we are keen to find a decision that could have a unifying effect,” Byfuglien told NTB newswire.
The matter will need to come before the Kirkemøte in spring, after which the liturgy will be prepared and put out for consultation. The first gay marriages could happen in 2017,” Stålsett predicted.
Although unusual in a global context for sanctioning same sex marriages in church, Norway lags behind its Scandinavian neighbours on the matter: Sweden authorised religious gay marriage in 2009, while Denmark legislated to make it mandatory for all churches to offer full religious same sex weddings in 2012.