The Bishops’ Conference (Kirkemøtet) approved gay church marriage by a final vote of 88 to 32, putting an end to two decades of debate.
“This is a big day for me, for Åpen folkekirke (Open people's church, ed.) and for the Church of Norway. Finally we will celebrate love regardless of whom one loves,” Gard Sandaker-Nilsen said at the conference in Trondheim, according to broadcaster NRK.
Over the weekend, 15 of 23 committee members said the conference should approve church weddings for same-sex couples, paving the way for Monday's final vote.
As part of the church officials' historic decision, bishops and other church officials were granted the right to refuse to officiate homosexual marriages. However, gay couples are ensured the right of being married in their local church even if the officials decline to carry out the service.
Åpen folkekirke (Open people's church) has been advocating for gay church marriage since September’s church elections.
“Åpen folkekirke believes that marriage is a commitment and a celebration between two people, regardless of whether it is two men, two women or a woman and a man,” Sandaker-Nilsen told NRK.
The Church of Norway last discussed gay marriage in 2014, when the idea was shot down. Monday's debate in Trondheim showed that there was still plenty of resistance among church members.
“For my part, and the thousands who I represent here, the disappointment, sorrow and uncertainty is great. Disappointment and sadness because today we are introducing a doctrine that a unified diocese called heresy in 1997. This goes against the Bible and Jesus’s word on marriage,” Rolf Magne Haukalid, one of several opponents to speak before the vote, said according to NRK.
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 has been slower than 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 in their place.
A newNorwegian 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 had refused to do until Monday.