Swedish priest may lose right to abstain from consecration gay marriage


Northern Europe


The Swedish church is very popular for marriages. Photo Princess Madeleine and Christopher O'Neill in 2013. Photo AFP, Anders Wiklund

In the new General Assembly of the Church of Sweden, there will be more debate about the priests' right to abstain from marrying people of the same sex.

That's the expectation of the Swedish daily Dagen.

Suppose individual priests in the Swedish church are convinced that the traditional marriage of man and woman is the only Biblical way. In that case, they can refer to the right to abstain that's written in the law. However, they have to point to another priest to guarantee that the couple gets married. The conscience clause has been in the law since 2009, when Sweden made marriage "gender-neutral", as it is called there.

Church marriage very popular

Although Swedes are not very church-attending, most use the church for marriage rather than civil authority. Until the year 2000, the Church of Sweden was the official state church, which made the church obedient to the national legislation.

On September 19th, the church's new General Assembly will be elected. All church members from 16 years and older will have the right to appoint the new synod. Dagen refers to research by the church magazine Kyrkans Tidning, that suggests that almost half of the new Assembly will be in favour of a change.

Candidates for the Assembly are organised in nomination groups (very much like political parties). Anna Ekström from the Free Liberals calls it "quite laughable" that people can say no to marrying a gay couple. New candidates for the priesthood should sign up for all marriages, she says. Priests should only use the conscience clause in the law if they think it is "an inappropriate marriage". "It is laughable that in 2021 we can choose not to marry same-sex couples", she says.

She compares this with how the Church of Sweden has previously treated women priests. From the time women were welcomed into the priesthood in 1958, until 1982 there was a similar clause for those who did not want to work with female priests, writes Kyrkans Tidning.

Other parties in the assembly election campaign confirm the Liberals' position. "One should marry regardless of gender", the Social Democrats say. And the Leftists add: "It should be obvious that all couples who wish to get married in church should meet welcomingly in all congregations."

If the members vote the same as in 2018, the conscience clause may remain because there will be 124 in favour and 123 against. But that also means that the balance is very tight, according to Kyrkans Tidning.

Objections are outlawed

Since the introduction of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands in 2001, conscientious objections for Christians are a pressing issue. Both England and the Netherland have outlawed the room for abstaining from marrying gay couples for civil registrars. The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed this position.

In 2017, the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said Kyrkans Tidning that the thinks priests should be obliged to marry everybody, regardless of gender. "I can understand that for reasons of faith, it can be difficult to get it together. But the church as an open democratic church is an organisation that stands for the equal value of people."



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