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The 12 bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran denomination backed the creation of a special liturgy for the marriage of same-sex couples. Roman Catholics and most independent evangelical churches keep defining marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman.
The General Synod of the Church of Norway, the largest Christian denomination in the Scandinavian country, has voted in favour of accepting same-sex marriage, opening the way for the first gay church marriages within the next two years.
“A united bishops’ meeting has approved the drawing up of liturgies for marrying same sex couples”, Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien announced. “This is a very important day for the church”, she added.
The vote from the country's 12 bishops of this Evangelical Lutheran church was unanimous, but will first need to be ratified by the Synod which meets in April 2016. Pastors will retain the right to decide whether they want to participate in ceremonies for gay people.
“It is a historic breakthrough that a bishops’ meeting unanimously recommends equal marriage in church,” thought Sturla Stålsett, Church of Norway chairman, and leader of the Open People's Church, which has led a campaign for gay church marriage in Norway.
“The first gay marriages could happen in 2017”, Stålsett predicted.
GAY MARRIAGE, LEGAL IN NORWAY SINCE 2008
So-called 'gay marriage' has been legal in Norway since 2008, but churches were left free to develop their own liturgy to enable gay weddings to take place in churches. Until this point there had been no agreement on the liturgy.
In 2013, 8 of the country’s 12 bishops said they were in favour of allowing same-sex couples to have full church weddings. After discussions with the four opposing bishops they agreed to push for a simpler blessing ceremony at the synod to avoid splitting the church.
But in September, a national ballot to select delegates for the governing body of the church, known as the Kirkemøte, resulted in the election of a massive majority of pro 'gay marriage' delegates, with those favouring 'gay marriage' outnumbering those against by two to one.
DIFFERENT DOCTRINAL POINTS OF VIEW
Byfuglien said that the bishops’ overarching concern was to avoid splits in the church over the issue. “There are different perceptions of marriage among same sex couples both in the Norwegian Church and among the bishops.” But said she thought the decision “could have a unifying effect”, she told the NTB newswire.
The Church of Norway, a Evangelical Lutheran denomination, claims nominally 82 percent of the entire Norwegian population, according to 2011 estimates.
The second largest Christian group, the Roman Catholic Church, remains opposed to same-sex marriage, and defines marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman.
Most free evangelical churches do also support a biblical view of marriage.
THE POLITICAL SCENE IN OTHER COUNTRIES
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.
Erna Solberg, Norway's Prime Minister, has previously shown support for 'same-sex marriage' in the church, and told NRK network last year: "Personally, I believe that gays should be allowed to marry in church. This is the way I, as a church member, want the church to go."