Norwegian is first gay minister to marry partner

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The Independent Online

The Conservative Finance Minister of Norway has married his homosexual partner in what activists have called a breakthrough for gay rights and a show of tolerance by the political right.

Per-Kristian Foss, 52, who married his long-time companion, Jan Erik Knarbakk, has become the first member of a Norwegian government to enter into a legally binding gay partnership. The partnership was sealed at the Norwegian embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, on 4 January, but was first reported yesterday.

In 1993, Norway became the second country in the world, after Denmark, to allow homosexual partners to marry, have the right to adopt children and have church weddings.

Same-sex marriages are now allowed in many western European countries, parts of Australia and the American state of Vermont.

The Finance Ministry confirmed the wedding but said Mr Foss was declining further comment.

"Yes, we entered a partnership at the embassy in Stockholm on Friday, 4 January," Mr Foss told the Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv. "But beyond that, it is a private matter."

The International Lesbian and Gay Association, based in Belgium, said Mr Foss's wedding was the first by a European government minister that it had noted.

Norwegian media reported the wedding without comment and no public protest was raised in this liberal Scandinavian country, which prides itself on respecting gay rights and the private lives of public figures.

Mr Foss is a member of a three-party coalition government led by Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Christian Democratic Party, which opposes homosexual marriages.

Conservatives in many parts of Europe also oppose same-sex marriages but the Norwegian Conservative Party tends to be more liberal in supporting the welfare state and individual responsibilities and rights.

Mr Foss was openly living with Mr Knarbakk – a top manager of the Schibsted publishing concern – and it was not an issue when he was appointed Finance Minister in October 2001.

Mr Foss told his party's Oslo chapter he was gay last year. He received a standing ovation for his openness and was unanimously elected leader of the Oslo Conservatives.