Church of Norway votes down gay marriage
The Church of Norway has voted not to allow gay couples to be married by its priests in normal church services, in a close-run decision that came as a disappointment to gay rights campaigners.
The proposal to introduce a marriage liturgy for homosexual couples was voted down shortly after the start of the church's national synod on Tuesday morning, with 64 of 115 votes going against the proposal, and 51 in favour.
"We are disappointed, but it's OK to be disappointed sometimes, " Bård Nylund, the leader of Norway's national association for gay, bisexual and transgender people, told Norway's VG newspaper. "We want to make it clear that we are happy that there is a struggle, and that so many in the Church are willing to stand up and be counted."
"Now they have stated loud and clear that they do not want to be a national church," he told NRK. "It's a sad day for the Church, and for all its members who now feel that the Church does not give them the sense of belonging they want."
Øivind Benestad, a priest who has been one of the leading voices against gay marriage, told Norway's NRK that he was relieved by the decision.
"I am very happy that the most radical proposal did not go through," he said.
In October, eight of the country's twelve bishops declared themselves in favour of allowing same-sex couples to have full church weddings. But, after discussions with the four opposing bishops, they agreed to push for a simpler blessing ceremony at the synod to avoid splitting the church.
At the synod, delegates rejected proposals to allow priests to bless a gay marriage on the sidelines of a civil ceremony, but they also voted against a proposal to maintain the status quo and
reserve marriage for heterosexual couples, plunging the synod into chaos.
"It (the rejection of all options) is something that no one had foreseen and no one knows now what will happen," bishop Tor Berger Joergensen told
public broadcaster NRK. We must have a little time now to look into the procedures."
Norway is one of the most liberal countries in Europe when it comes to homosexuality. Same-sex civil marriage and adoptions have been legal since 2009, and the Church of Norway also allows the ordination of homosexuals.
But it falls behind its Scandinavian neighbours on church weddings. Neighbouring Sweden authorized religious same-sex marriage in 2009 and Denmark in 2012 made it mandatory for all churches to offer full religious weddings for same-sex couples, although priests opposed on principle can ask a colleague to take the service their place.
A new Norwegian marriage law in 2008 gave gay couples the right to marry in the same way as heterosexual couples, but left it up to the Church to develop a liturgy, which it has so far refused to do.