Last year on May 1, Alexandra Einerstam and Åsa Andersson became wife and wife, tying the knot on the day same-sex marriage legislation came into force in Sweden.
You may now kiss the bride. Photo: Scanpix
Alexandra and Åsa’s wedding has been a Facebook event since a month before the wedding. Instead of an official guest list, the couple has welcomed anyone and everyone to celebrate with them in a park in central Stockholm. “We are making a statement that all love is good,” Einerstam says. “We have fought and waited so long for this.”
When Parliament passed the bill on April 1, the brides-to-be proposed to be one of the first Swedish homosexual couples to stage their big day. Sweden was an early starter in introducing registered partnerships for gay and lesbian couples in 1995. The road to marriage, however, has been somewhat rockier.
“I want to be married,” Einerstam says. “Partnership is not the same. I don’t want to introduce Åsa as my ‘registered partner’ – I love her, she’s my wife.”
Parliament says “Ja” — by popular vote
Sweden becomes the seventh country in the world to wholly embrace gender-neutral marriage. While political debate on the issue has come to the fore in the last decade, it has been on the agenda for RFSL, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (LGBT), since the organization was founded in 1950. RFSL president Sören Juvas hails it an historic day for Sweden.
“You must ask what this means for everyone in society,” he says. “It’s a victory for all, not only the LGBT community, because it’s a question of democracy, equality and human rights.”
Sören Juvas sees the new law as a victory for all of society, one more obstacle that we have overcome on the road to equality. Photo: Peter Knutsson
Legislation was passed by Sweden’s parliament on April 1 with an overwhelming majority: 261 members voted in favor, 22 opposed while 16 abstained.
The phrase ‘marriage’ has been the key controversy in this question, for supporters and critics alike. “Before, there was a legal reason to treat gays and lesbians differently because they were not married — now that will disappear,” Juvas says.
What’s the church got to do with it?
The Church of Sweden separated from the State in 2000, but religious leaders have been actively engaged in the gay marriage debate.
Since 2007, homosexual couples have been offered a religious blessing and officially, the church has come out in support of the law and the 'marriage' terminology. But debate remains within the sacred walls. “If you ask certain priests in certain parishes there are still differences of opinion,” says vicar Eva Brunne, Dean to the Bishop of Stockholm.
“For me, it’s important to welcome gay people to the church with all the same rights. Historically, you could say we have not been so accepting of gays and lesbians but the church has become more open.”
Brunne is homosexual and has been in a registered partnership since 2001. “I am married already,” she says. ”According to the law we can convert it, to call it marriage on paper.”
She believes the church has been held somewhat accountable for the time it has taken for the law to see the light. “It’s not the church that has pushed this backwards,” she says. ”Legislation is a question for Parliament.”
The political campaigns
Six of the seven political parties also backed the bill, the sole opponent being the Christian Democrats, one of four parties in the governing coalition.
Same-sex couples have been able to marry before in Sweden, but with the legal status of registered partnership. They can now convert it to gain legal status. Alexandra and Åsa (above), chose to wait for the new law, but not a day longer than that. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/Scanpix
Birgitta Ohlsson, Liberal (Folkpartiet) MP has been a long-standing campaigner for same-sex marriage. “It’s in line with Swedish values of tolerance, openness and liberty,” she says.
Still, this equality-driven nation has remained in the pioneering shadows of places such as Spain, where same-sex marriage has been legal for four years.
“We haven’t been as progressive as other countries in this question,” Ohlsson admits. “But we have been dealing with other LGBT issues like gay adoption and insemination for lesbians. Many political parties were either slow starters or changed their opinion, but the Christian Democrats have been fairly isolated in this issue.”
Surveys suggest there’s around 70 percent support from the Swedish population for gay marriage. Yet, Yvonne Andersson, Christian Democrat MP, says there is considerable opposition in society that should be heard. “I have received more than 100,000 emails, calls and letters saying that we have given people a voice,” she says.
“We say the new law shows a lack of respect towards the religiously and culturally-charged term ‘marriage,’ which should be reserved for a union between a man and a woman.”
According to the Christian Democrats, their stance is based on traditional values. “The state and church are separated so the state should not interfere with religion,” Andersson adds. “Nor should priests be forced to wed all couples and we fear this could be the result.”
Power to the priests
Indeed, same-sex marriage is not signed and sealed just yet. In October, the Church of Sweden Synod will discuss whether ceremonies can be conducted in church as well as a possible get-out clause for clergy who prefer not to marry homosexual couples.
“It could actually be made legal for priests to discriminate couples,” Juvas says. “We have taken the first step and this will be another to take.”
For now, there’s no stopping the romance in the air for Sweden’s gay and lesbian community. “What is private has become political but our wedding day is a celebration of love and equality at the same time,” Einerstam says.
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Christine Demsteader is an English freelance journalist, who attended Alexandra and Åsa’s wedding with the hopes of finding a husband. That did not happen, but over the last year she has progressed from single in Stockholm to moving in with boyfriend in Stockholm.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
This article was originally published on May 1, 2009.
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