Church of Sweden favours retaining marriage right

Stockholm, Swenden - The Church of Sweden, a Lutheran church, Thursday voted to retain the right to conduct legally binding marriage ceremonies, despite the strong likelihood that parliament will adopt a new marriage law allowing same-sex marriages.

Earlier this year, a government-appointed investigator suggested that Swedish marriage laws should be revised to offer same-sex unions the same legal status as traditional marriage.

The centre-right government has yet to present legislation based on the proposals crafted by Hans Regner, former Chancellor of Justice.

The issue was also to be debated at a party conference of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's conservatives that opened Thursday.

Same-sex couples have since 1995 been able to form a union via registered partnership which later was amended to allow them to adopt children.

Regners's proposal would scrap the 1995 law but allow priests to bow out of marrying same-sex couples.

The Church Assembly, the highest decision-making body in the Church of Sweden, on Thursday voted 164 to 74 with one abstention to retain the right to continue to conduct marriage ceremonies.

Opponents said it would be better that the state conducted the legal marriage ceremony and that the church would offer couples the possibility to bless their union at a separate ceremony.

Archbishop Anders Wejryd said it was not unlikely that the issue would be debated again, depending on parliament's pending decision.

Some 80 per cent of Sweden's 9 million people belong to the Church of Sweden that was separated from the state in January 2000 making it a 'faith-community' along with other denominations like the Pentecostals, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims.

Currently, 39 faith communities have the right to conduct legally recognized marriage ceremonies and would likely have to reapply for that right should new marriage laws be adopted.