Swedish bishops want state to solely handle marriage registration

Stockholm, Sweden - As Sweden moves to introduce same-sex marriage legislation, a majority of bishops in the Church of Sweden Friday said the church should no longer handle legal registrations of marriage. With proposed changes in marriage legislation underway, nine of the 13 bishops said "it makes sense that the state also handles the legal matters (for registration) without involving religious or civil rites."

Writing in an op-ed article in the Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter the bishops noted that a couple that plans to marry already must ask the Local Tax Office to investigate if there were anypossible impediments to the marriage before booking a church or civil registrar.

On completion of the review, it would suffice for the tax agency to "add that the marriage is registered" and the couple could then sign a joint document to that affect, the bishops said.

After registering their marriage, the couple could opt for a religious or other ceremony.

Currently, 39 faith communities have the right to conduct legally- binding marriage ceremonies. But even if there was a clause allowing individual priests to decline to marry same-sex couples, the bishops believed that this was "untenable" in the long-term.

Within the church there were also different views on marriage that differ from the state's, the bishops said.

Last month, three of the four parties in the ruling centre-right coalition proposed that parliament approves same-sex marriage.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's conservative Moderate Party, the Liberal Party and the Centre Party were likely to get support from the opposition but failed to woo the Christian Democrats, who remain opposed to a gender-neutral marriage law.

The proposal was likely to take effect from May.

In a related move, the board of the 31,000-member Evangelical Free Church said it would recommend its upcoming assembly to approve a decision that the Baptist-linked groupbe struck off as a faith community allowed to conduct legal marriage ceremonies.

"We believe that a majority in government and parliament have ignored religions and churches," chairman Stefan Sward told Swedish radio news.

"This is an opportunity for us to say we don't want to be part of this game," Sward added.

Since 1995, same-sex couples have been able to form a union in Sweden via registered partnership. The law was later amended to allow them to adopt children.

Some 80 per cent of Sweden's 9 million people belong to the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran church. It was disestablished in 2000, receiving the same "faith community" designation as other faiths, such as the Pentecostal, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim.