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Torn asunder: Gay marriage and the Lutheran Church

Finland legalised same-sex marriage in 2017, but the state-funded church is struggling with the new rule.

All Points North logo with photo of two women holding hands
Image: Yle / Henrietta Hassinen

Three years after Finland legalised same-sex marriage, the Lutheran Evangelical Church has yet to adopt a clear position on letting priests administer wedding vows in church.

Vicar of Helsinki's St. Paul's parish Kari Kanala told All Points North that while the previous church Synod was not able to agree on a way forward, the matter will likely be addressed by the new leadership body that was installed earlier this year.

"A new church council has been elected. It has 108 members and it needs a majority of three out of four to make a decision, so just 27 or 28 people can decide things. Hopefully we can get a decision, and the church can be whole again," he noted.

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Some parishes have penalised priests for marrying same-sex couples. But others, like St. Paul's parish have opened their doors to gay couples wanting to get married in church. Kanala said that the parish also let priests decide whether or not they want to officiate at the non-traditional weddings.

"For example in St. Paul's Parish we were the first parish in Finland to make the decision to open our doors to gay marriage. The decision was made on October 4th 2016 so that when the 1st of March came, we would be ready," he said.

"When we put church law and state law together it's pretty obvious which is stronger. And we should follow that. I think there are 100 or 200 priests [in Finland] who have wed or are ready to wed couples."

Pressure from shrinking membership

Between the year 2000 and 2019, the church lost 868,000 members but gained just 260,000 (content in Finnish). Moreover there was a peak in departures in 2014 after Parliament voted to make same-sex marriage legal. APN asked Kanala if the shrinking membership is putting pressure on church leaders to adopt a clear position on the issue.

"I hope so because we should take care of our members and listen to people's voices," Kanala said.

"We recognise what our members want but when the church is making decisions it may take some time, so I hope that people can be patient but I think that these things will change," he added.

Story continues after photo.

Vicar of St. Paul's parish in Helsinki Kari Kanala.
Vicar of St. Paul's parish in Helsinki Kari Kanala. Image: Yle News / Mark B. Odom

The decision to open up the church to women priests was another major challenge for the church, Kanala said, noting that the decision to ordain women as clerics was taken in 1988. However a decision was reached only after four voting rounds and the final result was very close, Kanala pointed out.

Nearly a year ago, a survey of 534 Evangelical Lutheran priests in Finland found that 57 percent said they would officiate at weddings for homosexual couples if the church allowed it.

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This week's show was presented by Denise Wall and produced by Mark B. Odom. The sound engineer this week was Katja Kostiainen.

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