Swedish church agrees to conduct gay weddings

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Sweden's Lutheran Church agreed yesterday to conduct gay weddings, becoming the first major church to do so.

The church said it would begin wedding same-sex couples on 1 November.

"For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathise with the many who believe this has gone too fast," Archbishop of Sweden Anders Wejryd told a news conference.

The decision comes after the Swedish parliament legalised same-sex weddings earlier this year, changing a law permitting legal unions but not formal marriage. The church board voted 176-62 in favour of the change.

Sweden's Lutheran Church split from the state in 2000 but remains the country's largest religious community. It had previously said it was open to registering same-sex unions but wanted to reserve the term matrimony for heterosexual marriages.

The new legislation has eliminated legal distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual spouses, but does not force clergy to wed gay couples. A church official said individual priests would still not be required to perform gay marriages. However, churches must ensure they can wed same-sex couples, if necessary bringing in an outside priest to perform the ceremony. Some within the church oppose gay marriage, saying it contravenes scripture. Sweden's Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights said it was "a big step in the right direction".