Nearly 8,000 people have resigned from the Lutheran Church in Finland after Parliament passed a law Friday allowing same-sex marriages and the leader of the official state church endorsed it.
The Finnish Parliament legalized gender-neutral marriage by a vote of 105 to 92. In passing the law, Finland became the 12th country in Europe to legalize gay marriage. Until then, it had been the only remaining Scandinavian country where same-sex marriage was illegal.
Kari Mäkinen, Archbishop of Finland’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, sparked the exodus by posting a comment on Facebook in which he expressed support for the law and said he “rejoiced” at its approval. In the post, Mäkinen also called for rethinking the traditional concept of marriage.
“I know how much this day means for rainbow people, their loved ones and many others,” he wrote. “I rejoice with my whole heart for them and with them.” Mäkinen added that “our concept of marriage needs a fundamental examination. Speaking for myself, I think it is time for reconsideration.”
As of late Saturday, about 7,800 people had officially withdrawn from the state-endorsed Lutheran Church via an online service. Finnish media reported that most of the comments under the resignations express disapproval of the archbishop’s statements.
Since the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the official state church, it is funded directly by taxpayers. The wave of resignations may cause church officials concern, since the church stands to lose the revenues of 8,000 members who will no longer be paying church taxes, which provide the majority of the church’s income.
The Christian Democrats Party is not affiliated with the church, but has stood as the main opponent to same-sex marriage. Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen, the party’s chairperson, has vocally criticized gender-neutral marriage and said she was deeply disappointed by the vote.
“This is a deep question of principle,” Räsänen said. “I believe that in the future a large group of Finns will continue to consider marriage to be a bond between a man and a woman, and that they will not consider relationships between people of the same gender to be marriages.”
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.