Delegates of Sweden's largest church, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, approved a plan Thursday to bless gay marriages, the AFP reported.
Gay marriage became available in Sweden on May 1 after Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill in April, making it the seventh country to legalize gay marriage.
A large majority (70%) of the church's synod, or church board, agreed to allow gay couples to marry in its congregations from November 1. Pastors, however, have the discretion to refuse to bless a marriage.
The Church of Sweden, which was the state church until 2000, is the nation's largest church with 6.8 million members or nearly 75% of Swedes. While the church has blessed civil unions for more than a decade, and supported the effort to legalize gay marriage, some clergy wanted to preserve marriage for heterosexual couples.
The decision comes on the heels of a controversial vote by U.S. Lutherans to accept partnered gay clergy and a nod to pastors wanting to bless gay unions and marriages. ELCA, the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, voted to adopt the changes in August. Unhappy conservatives have since announced they would explore ways to splinter from the church.
Likewise, conservative Episcopalians are defecting to more orthodox denominations over similar gay issues, including the blessing of gay marriages. Last week, the Pope said he would embrace disgruntled Anglicans, which include Episcopalians, to the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Father's offer includes concessions that would allow Anglicans to keep some religious traditions.
The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), the nation's largest gay rights advocate, praised the move by the Lutheran Church.
“[We] congratulate the Church of Sweden for its decision. [The Church's] homosexual and bisexual members will finally be able to feel a little more welcome within society,” the group said in a statement.
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden called the Lutheran's decision “sad” and vowed not to unite gay couples.
Gay marriage is legal in six other countries including Spain, South Africa, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium. Six U.S. states – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire – currently offer gay nuptials. Mainers will decide on November 3 whether to keep the gay marriage law approved this spring by lawmakers.
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