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Marriage equality reached Finland on March 1, 2017

jnsto • 01.03.2017 23:08 NEWS IN ENGLISH • KOTIMAA
As the new Marriage Act accepting same sex marriages in Finland became law on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, supporters of equality celebrated throughout the country. Finland was the last of the five Nordic countries to lift sex restrictions related to marriages.

Former president Tarja Halonen (in office 2000-2012) sent congratulations to the couples tying the knot on Wednesday. "Congratulations, at last", she wrote. President Halonen had been the chairman of the Finnish sexual equality pressure group Seta in the early 80s.

Homosexual acts were decriminalized in Finland in 1971. A civil partnership system was enacted in 2002.

Parliament passed the Marriage Act in late 2014 on the basis of a civic initiative. The then coalition government under premier Jyrki Katainen had not been willing to submit a bill as not all coalition parties accepted the idea. Later a counter civic initiative named "True Marriage" was mobilized by conservative pressure groups. It was defeated in parliament only in late February 2017, two weeks prior to the new Marriage Act to take effect.

Rainbow colors were featured widely in Finnish media on Wednesday. A new Helsinki high rise hotel decided to feature rainbow colors on its front all this week. Rainbow colored flags were hoisted by the Helsinki Music Centre.

Embassies of some of the 23 countries who already acknowledge same sex marriage published social media congratulations to Finland.

The marriage reform left the national Finnish Evangelic Lutheran Church confronted with increasing internal polarization. Liberals and conservatives in the church have not been able to reach common ground on the marriage issue. The church does not acknowledge marriage except as one between a man and a woman.

In Finland a marriage administered by the church has legal validity and no civil ceremony is required. Marriage ceremonies at Magistrates offices have become increasingly popular, however. If no solution is found, one alternative being debated is that the church would give up the legal right to officiate marriages and thus avoid taking a stand on the issue.

National broadcaster Yle reported on March 1st, 2017, that resignations from church membership had increased in recent days. The church is losing both conservative members thinking the church has become too liberal and liberal members, not accepting the negative stand of the church on same sex marriage.

Membership in the national church has declined since the 80s from over 90 percent to above 70 percent. The marriage issue has triggered mass resignation waves during the past ten years.

Dozens of priests have announced their willingness to preside over ceremonies for same sex couples, but bishops have indicated it would lead to measures against the individuals. The church employs over 2000 priests. Church authorities have admitted however that a marriage enacted by a nonconformist priest would be quite legal and valid as it would match with the national legislation.


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