Fifteen years ago, myself and a film crew followed a young lesbian woman who was studying to become a priest at Johannelund Theological College in Uppsala. At the same time, a heated debate was going on about whether the government should give the church the right to perform same-sex marriages. The debate surrounding the question was loud and emotionally charged.
In the classroom at Johannelund, homosexuality was discussed as a sin, and posters with the words "Stop the Church from making a fatal decision - marriage for homosexuals" were hung on the school bulletin board.
Our theology student, Jenny, fell in love with a woman called Linda during her studies. They wanted to say "I do" in the church. Back then, as a same-sex couple, they could receive a blessing in church, but to be legally married, they also needed to have a civil ceremony.
Jenny's classmates didn't want to discuss their stance on same-sex marriage, and avoided the topic whenever it came up. Jenny described her time at school as an encounter with silence - silence in the sense of distance. Until one day, her classmate Viktor offered to discuss the issue.
They were sitting in the dorm's café, and in a tentative conversation, Viktor began to talk about his pollen allergy.
– Well, I don't function the way I should in many ways. For example, I am allergic to pollen, he said.
Jenny listened thoughtfully and asked:
– Do you think homosexuality and pollen allergy are in the same way a deviation from the original creation?
– Yes, I think it's something that deviates from what was intended from the beginning, Viktor replied.
Jenny asked him if he sought forgiveness for his pollen allergy, since she did not seek forgiveness for her sexuality. He paused for a moment before answering:
– You never know; it's not always clear who's right or wrong.
So what has happened in the fifteen years since Viktor and Jenny sat in the café at Johannelund Theological College?
In the autumn of 2009, the Church Assembly decided that same-sex couples could marry in the Church of Sweden. But there is a catch. In 2024, a priest can still refuse to perform same-sex marriages for personal reasons. It's called "conscientious objection." Just three years ago, in May, priests across the country went on a marriage strike against performing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
So the Church of Sweden is performing same-sex marriages, but priests in the Church of Sweden still have the legal right to abstain.
There has been a long debate about not allowing newly trained priests to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages, but the issue has stalled and nothing has changed.
It's undoubtedly positive that the Church of Sweden participates in Pride festivals, holds seminars with LGBTQI+ themes, or prints brochures emphasizing that LGBTQI+ people are as welcome in the church as anyone else. But there's a tear in the rainbow carpet.
How is it possible for a priest to refuse to marry a same-sex couple? Doesn't Jesus love all people? It doesn't make sense. What's the problem? Jenny replies:
– Well, you think that Jesus loves all people. But there's a vital difference for people like me. I can be homosexual, but I can't practice it. So it's okay for me to be a lesbian, but not to live with a woman.
Rainbow masses are essential in breaking the silence and explaining the journey that has been made so far, and how far there is still to go. It's easy for us to keep saying: 'In Sweden we have come a long way compared to many other countries.'
That's certainly true. But should we be satisfied with being 'almost there'?
This is a column and the views are the author's own.
Marriage between two people of the same sex is also called same-sex marriage, single-sex marriage, gay marriage or gender-neutral marriage.
The Church of Sweden has been allowed to perform marriages for same-sex couples since November 1, 2009.