In August the Lutheran Synod of Bishops handed down a proclamation, part of which declared that weddings administered by the church should only involve male-female couples.
Since then the church has experienced a great deal of pushback over its official position, with some priests signaling their intention to break with the Synod’s prescription and marry same-sex couples. Last week, Helsinki’s St. Paul’s Church called on bishops as well as the Synod to offer marriage rites to gay couples.
On Thursday the Helsinki diocese council ratcheted up the opposition as it issued a position statement calling on the Lutheran church to abide by reformed marriage laws that have legalised gay marriage and marry couples without regard for their sexual orientation.
"A question of parishioners' lives"
The diocese council stressed that the position was not based primarily on priests’ rights and responsibilities.
"The matter is a question of parishioners’ lives, serving them and the parish’s involvement with one of life’s most important turning points. As a result this is a question of primarily serving those whom it touches personally – not those whose idea of same-sex marriage is a religious concept or problematic for any other reason," the diocese said in a statement.
The diocese said that in its view the Synod’s handbook, which it cited in prohibiting clerics from marrying gay couples – should be adapted to suit existing circumstances.
The council said that it was unfortunate that the church’s rulebook had not been modified to correspond to new circumstances. It noted that such change were the responsibility of the Synod.
Couples should be treated equally
Nearly two years ago in November 2014, Finnish legislators voted to legalise same-sex marriage, a statute that will come into force next March. The diocese council also called on the Synod to avoid putting individuals and couples on an unequal footing on the basis of their sexual orientation.
"According to our interpretation, there is nothing in church law and procedures that would directly forbid marrying same-sex couples," added Wiking Vuori, deputy head of the Helsinki diocese council.
"In the eyes of the church all confirmed church members are eligible for marriage," he continued.
Council members supported the position statement by 13 – 6 votes. The council comprises elected parish representatives as well as priests. Among other things, its mission is to support and advance the execution of church programmes in the parish, however it is not an executive body.