Lutherans in Estonia stop marrying couples because of same-sex marriage
Estonia’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) has decided to stop registering marriages after Estonia approved a law that allows same-sex marriage.
In June, the 101-seat parliament passed amendments to the Family Law Act with a final vote of 55-34, according to a report by Seurakuntalainen. The amendments will go into effect on 1 January 2024 and will make Estonia the first Baltic state to allow same-sex marriages.
In response to the decision, the Archbishop and Consistory of the EELK says that the Church has decided to forego marriage registrations since this summer. The Act also requires church ceremonies to proceed after a civil ceremony at the registry office.
The EELK’s official position on marriage currently stands as the union between a man and a woman.
In a report by ERR, Archbishop Viilma says that since the EELK has temporarily halted registering marriages, he questions the specific documents his clergy will receive from future registrations.
“If we officiate gender-neutral marriages on behalf of the state, while in the church we bless and officiate marriages that are between a man and a woman, are we dealing with two different marriages?” he said to ERR.
Despite his concerns, Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo says that churches have the freedom to decide on the issue. The Family Law Act allows clergy to officiate marriages if they have undergone “civil registrar preparation.” According to Riisalo, clergy are not forced to carry out a marriage if they hold objections.
However, Viilma questions the Act’s protections for clergy who want to hold traditional marriage ceremonies.
“Does the law that stipulates that two natural persons (a legal term-ed.) can marry each other give meaning to marriage so far as the state goes or does the gender of those people marrying each other provide the meaning to marriage?” he asked in an ERR editorial.
Such questions have prompted a meeting that is scheduled in the fall, where EELK leaders and clergy from other churches will discuss the matter internally.
For Viilma, the Family Law Act and its amendments have not been the only issue his church has had to confront. The government recently discontinued its cooperation agreement with the EELK. The 30-year-old agreement provided “preferential status” to the EELK, but not to other Estonian churches. Although Estonia has no official state church, the EELK plays a significant role in the nation’s history and culture. The Archbishop has called the recent decision “strange,” but Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said that the state cannot “favour one church over others” and that all churches are “equally important.”
“For me, this is somewhat strange however – that bilateral issues should be discussed in the presence of other persons, for some reason. This is odd. And it is also odd given that no one has provided any explanation. In fact, the joint EELK and government committee has already met once during the current government's tenure,” he said in another ERR report.
The EELK shares memberships with the Lutheran World Federation and the Porvoo Communion, which is affiliated with the Church of England. Its churches can be found around the world, including St. Petersburg, Russia, and Los Angeles, California in the US.
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