STOCKHOLM, Sweden (ABP) — Sweden is likely to become the world's sixth nation to offer gay couples full marriage rights. Lawmakers there are expected to approve a gay-marriage recommendation offered by a special government commission March 21.
Sweden's state-established Lutheran denomination has said it will begin performing legal same-sex weddings.
Since 1994, Sweden has offered most of the rights of marriage to gay couples via civil unions. But the commission, headed by jurist Hans Regner, proposed amending the nation's marriage laws to give gay partners the responsibilities and protections of full legal marriage.
“Two men or two women should be able to wed and in the future be called 'spouses,'” Regner said, according to the Associated Press. “All the rules for heterosexual spouses will be applied also to homosexual couples.”
Legislators are expected to approve the proposal. Gay rights have widespread support in Scandinavian countries. If the law passes, Sweden will join Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and South Africa as the world's only nations to offer full marriage rights to gay couples. Massachusetts is the only jurisdiction in the United States to legally recognize gay marriage.
The proposed law specifically exempts churches from having to perform same-sex marriages. However, officials with the Church of Sweden announced they would begin performing the marriage ceremonies. The denomination approved of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in 2005, after a lengthy and impassioned debate. But, according to news reports, those ceremonies are substantially different than the liturgy the church uses to perform marriages.
The Church of Sweden has 7 million members in the historically Lutheran nation of 9 million. Only a very small percentage of those members participate regularly in the life of a local parish.