Same-sex marriage in Sweden
|Legal status of
*Not yet in effect
Same-sex marriage in Sweden has been legal since 1 May 2009, following the adoption of a new, gender-neutral law on marriage by the Swedish parliament on 1 April 2009, making Sweden the seventh country in the world to open marriage to same-sex couples nationwide. Existing registered partnerships will remain in force, and can be converted to a marriage if the parties so desire, either through a written application or through a formal ceremony. New registered partnerships will no longer be able to be entered into and marriage will be the only legally recognized form of union for couples regardless of sex.
On 22 October 2009, the governing board of the Church of Sweden, voted 176–62 in favour of allowing its priests to wed same-sex couples in new gender-neutral church ceremonies, including the use of the term marriage. Same-sex marriages have been performed by the church since 1 November 2009.
Registered partnership was granted in Sweden in 1995. Sweden was the third country to legally recognise same-sex unions, after Denmark and Norway.
The registered partnership gave full range of protections, responsibilities and benefits as marriage, including adoption and arrangements for the breakdown of the relationship only available to same-sex couples. Same-sex registered partners could adopt jointly. In vitro fertilisation for lesbian couples was allowed in 2005. Non-Swedes who were legally resident in Sweden had the right to enter into the registered partnership since 2000.
The main distinction between registered partnership and marriage was that they were covered by separate laws, and that same-sex partnerships were a civil matter and could not be conducted through the church authority. Many people complained about this inequality, asking for a gender-neutral marriage law. Many said they would have even liked a gender-neutral marriage that would conducted solely by the state, as is done in several other countries, rather than the current system in which churches have the authority to (legally) marry people, because this would further the separation of church and state.
Sweden also has a separate and more limited common-law marriage Act for both unmarried/unregistered opposite-sex and same-sex couples. From 1988 to 2003, there were two different laws, one for opposite-sex couples and one for same-sex couples, which are now united into a single law. Common-law 'marriage' is open to non-Swedes, which means that one does not have to be married to move to Sweden to live with one's partner. Non-Swedes have the same rights of common-law 'marriage'.
In 2004, Parliament established a committee to investigate the possibility of opening marriage to same-sex partners. The report, issued in March 2007, supported enacting a gender-neutral marriage law and abolishing the registered partnership law (registered partnerships would be automatically converted into marriages) while granting an "opt-out" to religious institutions, which would allow them to refuse to marry same-sex couples. This last point was quite controversial and increased calls for a civil-only marriage law. The committee further suggested that the government bring the changes into effect by 1 January 2008.
Six of the seven political parties of the national parliament were in favour of such a reform. These were the Left Party, the Greens, the Social Democrats, the liberal Peoples' Party, the Moderates (Swedish Conservatives) and the Centre Party. The Christian Democrats opposed the idea, while the conservative/liberal Moderates signed on their support at their party congress in 2007. The majority of Swedes approved of same-sex marriage, but there was some strong opposition from religious organisations and other self-described "family-oriented" groups.
Many complained about the slowly advancing governmental process of changing partnership into marriage, especially as the two types of unions were already essentially the same and many considered the change inevitable and natural. They said there is no validity in the argument that same-sex marriage would threaten opposite-sex marriage because a gender-neutral marriage would have no greater impact on society than the current law and argued it was simply a matter of principle and equality. For the opposition, they saw it as a threat to the symbolic value of marriage.
On 12 May 2008, media sources reported that a married same-sex couple from Canada were challenging the Swedish Government in court because it refused to recognise their relationship as a marriage. Although a lower court – including the Court of Appeals – refused to hear the case, Sweden's highest administrative court, the Supreme Administrative Court, agreed to hear the case. The couple argued that a same-sex marriage entered into in accordance with Canadian law should be recognised in Sweden, despite the fact that there was no legal basis for it under then current Swedish law. On 18 December 2008, the Court ruled that the Swedish Tax Authority did not break any rules as the definition of marriage under Swedish law was at the time the union of one man and one woman, and that same-sex relationships were to be recognised as a registered partnership.
Vote for same sex marriage
The government consisted of the Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Liberal People's Party, and the Christian Democratic Party. The Swedish Minister for Justice, Beatrice Ask, who had responsibility on the matter, reacted positively when the commission presented its result. How the legalisation would end was not clear as one of the coalition partners was against it. The leader of the Social Democratic Party said that she would put forward a bill in the parliament itself if the government could not unite on the issue.
On 27 October 2007, the Moderate Party formally backed same-sex marriages, meaning that the Christian Democrats would be the only party to oppose the law. Göran Hägglund, the leader of the Christian Democrats, stated on Swedish Radio, "My position is that I have been tasked by the party to argue that marriage is for men and women. … When we discuss it between parties we are naturally open and sensitive to each other's arguments and we'll see if we can find a line that allows us to come together."
On 12 December 2007, the Church of Sweden gave the green light for same-sex couples to wed in the church, but recommended the term marriage be restricted to opposite-sex couples. It was asked by the Government for its opinion on the matter before the introduction of legislation in early 2008. "Marriage and (same-sex) partnerships are equivalent forms of unions. Therefore the Church of Sweden's central board says yes to the proposal to join the legislation for marriages and partnerships into a single law," the Church said in a statement. "According to the Church of Sweden's board the word 'marriage' should however only be used for the relationship between a woman and a man," it said.
On 14 January 2008, two leading politicians in the Christian Democrats took a position against the party and started to support same-sex marriage.
Reports suggested the Government would table its same-sex marriage bill in early 2008, however, they had yet to propose a bill. This was likely due to the Christian Democrats' opposition from within the four-party centre-right governing coalition despite their being the only party opposing the move. After negotiations on a compromise broke down and facing a parliamentary ultimatum in late October 2008, the government prepared to present its bill to a free vote.
On 21 January 2009, a bill was introduced in the Swedish parliament to make the legal concept of marriage gender-neutral. The bill was passed on 1 April and took effect on 1 May. The bill was supported by all parties except the Christian Democrats and one member of Center Party. It passed with 261 votes in favour, 22 votes against and 16 abstentions.
Church of Sweden
In 2009, Eva Brunne was elected and consecrated as Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm. She is the first lesbian bishop in the world and the first bishop of the Church of Sweden to be in a registered same-sex partnership.
On 22 October 2009, the assembly of the Church of Sweden (which is no longer the national church but whose assent was important for the new practice to work smoothly) voted strongly in favour of giving its blessing to same-sex marriages, including the use of the term marriage. It is the first major church in Sweden to take this position on same-sex marriage. Archbishop of Uppsala Anders Wejryd commented that he was pleased with the decision. The second and third largest Christian denominations in the country, the Catholic Church and the Pentecostalist Movement of Sweden, commented that they were "disappointed" by the decision of the Church of Sweden. The Muslim Association of Sweden had already stated that no imams will marry same-sex couples.
In July 2013, Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån - SCB) released the number of people who had married a partner of the same sex since marriage legalisation in 2009. The group found that in all jurisdictions of Sweden bar one (Stockholm County) more female same-sex marriages occur than male same-sex marriages. As of July 2013, 4521 same-sex female couples were legally married in Sweden, compared to 3646 same-sex male couples. The odd figure for female marriages is due to the SCB not including foreigners in the statistics.
YouGov poll, conducted between 27 December 2012 and 6 January 2013, found that 79% of Swedes supported same-sex marriage, 14% were opposed and 7% had no opinion.
A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that 81% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and another 9% supported other form of recognition for same-sex couples.
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