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Thursday's papers: Slippery roads, mayoral race, defying the church

Southern and southwestern parts of the country were digging out from under a blanket of fresh snow and motorists faced hazardous driving conditions. Four men and four women are in the running to become Helsinki mayor. More Lutheran clerics say they will marry same-sex couples despite a church ban.

Talviliikennettä Joensuun ja Ilomantsin välisellä tiellä.
Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

"Be careful driving!" is this morning's advice from Helsinki's main Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet, a sentiment it backs up with reports on snarled traffic and accidents in large parts of the south following heavy snow and high winds Wednesday afternoon and evening.

The freesheet Metro reports accidents involving cars, at least one bus and a Helsinki tram that ran off the rails in the Töölö district. It also says that large numbers of flights were delayed at Helsinki airport where only one of three runways was in operation during the evening hours.

According to Turun Sanomat, there have been dozens of minor road accidents in the southwest, and police have had numerous reports of long-haul lorries stuck in snow drifts in various parts of the region. The paper passes on a warning from police to exercise extreme caution while driving today, keep speeds down and maintain an assured clear distance in traffic.

Election preparations

The new city council that will be taking office in Helsinki in June will be tasked with electing the city's first mayor. Up until now, the capital has had a city manager administrative system. Following municipal elections, the system will become more political with a mayor and four deputy mayors chosen from among 85 city council members and 85 alternative members.

Today's Helsingin Sanomat reports that four men and four women have already announced their candidacies for the post of mayor. Since the election will take place along party lines, the paper says that in practice the choice will come down to either a Green League or National Coalition Party candidate.

Helsingin Sanomat provides readers a listing and a profile of each of the announced candidates. In addition, it has an interactive survey section where readers can check the position taken by each candidate on a range of current issues.

Meanwhile, Turun Sanomat refers to a report from earlier this week in the municipal sector newspaper Kuntalehti saying that there is a lack of candidates for upcoming local council elections in many parts of the country. It looks as if the three largest parties may be fielding a thousand fewer than in the last elections.

Turun Sanomat reports that in the southwest, the Social Democratic Party in particular is having a problem finding candidates to run. The deadline to file as a candidate runs out this coming Tuesday and, for example, the municipality of Marttila has yet to see a single SDP candidate announce for the race.

The party's operations director for the southwestern region told the paper she considers this a fluke and not a sign that support in rural areas is melting away. The party's local chairman in Marttila took a dimmer view of municipal party politics in the rural areas, saying that it is increasingly reliant on aging players and lacking young enthusiastic activists.

Defying the church

According a Lutheran minister interviewed in Thursday's Savon Sanomat, there are five to ten members of the clergy in the diocese of Kuopio who intend to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples once Finland's gender-neutral marriage law takes effect on the first of March.

The minister, who declined to be identified, did say however that none of the marriages would take place in a church.

The official position of the Evangelical Luther Church of Finland is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

A website "Sateenkaaripapit" (Rainbow Priests) has published a list of ministers willing to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. The site claims that the number of ministers ready to do so is actually larger than those listed.

The only minister in the diocese of Kuopio on the list is the vicar of Konnevesi, Olavi Virtanen. He told Savon Sanomat, "If two people in love who are members of the church want to get married and the law allows it, why shouldn't they be married? I've been a minister for 22 years and I've always thought about this in the same way."

Virtanen said he's not worried about the consequences that church authorities may impose.

"Sometimes one suffers for his convictions. The history of the church is full of examples."

Olavi Virtanen has received "cautious" support from fellow ministers and parishioners and so far, he says no negative feedback on his announced decision.

On a related issue, Iltalehti reports that Parliament overwhelmingly rejected an initiative Wednesday aimed in effect at allowing adoption agencies to choose couples on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Once Finland's gender-neutral marriage law comes into force, same-sex couples will have equal adoption rights.

The initiative was put forward by former Interior Minister and Christian Democratic MP Päivi Räsänen who argues that access to international adoption agencies will be cut off once gay and lesbian couples have adoption rights.

Räsänen told the paper that during the term of the last cabinet, Russia announced that if a gender-neutral marriage act were passed, children from Russia would no longer be available for adoption in Finland.

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