OSLO: Norway’s largest religious body, the Lutheran Church, voted by an overwhelming majority on Monday to allow gay marriages in its places of worship, a right enjoyed in only a few other countries.
Eighty-eight of 115 participants at a synod in the western town of Trondheim voted in favor of developing a second wedding service that would enable the Church to marry both same-sex and heterosexual couples.
Widely expected, the result was met with a standing ovation from participants who could be seen sharing tearful hugs in a live webcast, with only a few disappointed faces in the crowd.
Only Sweden and Denmark have so far allowed gays to marry in a major Church, in addition to several congregations in the Anglo-Saxon world.
While the change will apply to the whole of the Norwegian Lutheran Church, each minister will be allowed to refuse to celebrate a gay marriage.
“It’s a signal to Norwegian society that homosexuals should not be treated differently, and also a signal to the rest of the world, especially other churches: love between two same-sex people must also be recognised in a religious arena,” Gard Realf Sandaker-Nielsen, the head of the liberal Open Church movement, told Agence France-Presse, himself a homosexual.
Opponents, in the minority, had argued that the Bible defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
In practice, gay weddings in the Lutheran Church will be possible after the adoption of a new marriage rite due to be adopted at another synod in Jan. 2017.
“I’m not different,” Kai Steffen Ostensen, a delegate, told the synod. “I’m a person. I’m just a person who loves another person,” he said.
Around 74 percent of Norwegians were registered in 2014 as members of Norway’s Lutheran Church, which is scheduled to separate from the state in 2017.
The question of gay weddings has been debated within the Church for decades.
A previous synod in 2014 rejected a similar proposal, but Church elections in September 2015 put supporters in the majority. A month later, the country’s 12 bishops unanimously agreed to back the proposal adopted on Monday.
Like its Nordic neighbours, Norway is a pioneer in gay rights.
Civil gay marriages and adoption have been allowed since 2009, and the Church also ordains gay ministers. AFP