The Swedish Lutheran Church has declared that it is in favor of allowing homosexual couples to have weddings in church, although it recommended that the word "marriage" be used only for heterosexual unions.
The Church of Sweden – the largest church in the country, claiming 7.2 million members in a country of 9.1 million people – said Wednesday that it approves of legislation that would make laws governing marriage "gender neutral." The church, among many other bodies, had been asked to comment on the gender neutral bill which the Swedish government hopes to present to parliament early next year.
"Marriage and (same-sex) partnerships are equivalent forms of unions," the Church of Sweden said in a statement. "Therefore the Church of Sweden's central board says yes to the proposal to join the legislation for marriages and partnerships into a single law," according to Agence France-Presse.
While supporting the proposed changes to current legislation, the Church of Sweden's board agreed that the word "marriage" should be used only for heterosexual relationships.
The response reflected "the different theological interpretations within the Church of Sweden," said Archbishop Anders Wejryd.
"There were different opinions on the board, but there was a large majority who felt that the word marriage should only be used for man/woman relationships," he said, as reported by AFP.
Since 1995, civil unions for homosexual partnerships have had the same legal status as heterosexual marriages in Sweden. Still, homosexual organizations have been campaigning to remove the last remaining difference between heterosexual and homosexual unions – having their union described as a "marriage."
Currently, Swedish law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman only. The government's new bill, however, takes gender out of the definition of marriage.
The Church, while rejecting the idea of homosexual "marriage," has nevertheless said for the first time that homosexual couples may wed in the church. Until now, homosexuals could only have their partnerships registered in civil ceremonies.
Sweden introduced the new legislation earlier this year in March when a government-appointed committee proposed expanding the rights of same-sex couples. If the new law is passed, couples who have entered civil unions would automatically be considered legally "married," and Sweden would become the first country in the world to allow homosexuals to "marry" within a major Church.
The Swedish Lutheran Church has offered blessings to homosexual unions since January 2007.