The Episcopal Council of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church decided on 17 October that the clergy of the Lutheran Church, who have the right to officiate marriages on behalf of the state, may only officiate a marriage between a man and a woman.
According to the council’s decision, the clergy may continue to officiate marriages on behalf of the state even after the entry into force of the revision of the Family Law Act, which will officially allow gender-neutral marriage in Estonia, starting 1 January 2024, but the clergy may only officiate a marriage between a man and a woman.
After the amendment of the Family Law Act in the parliament in June of this year, the Consistory of the Estonian Lutheran Church decided that, until a relevant decision is made by the Episcopal Council, the church would temporarily stop accepting applications from people who wish to register their marriage in the church from the new year onward.
“Moral and religious obstacles”
On 17 October, the Episcopal Council analysed what “moral or religious obstacles” are associated with clergy who have the right to officiate marriages on behalf of the state based on the new version of the law.
“It is important to emphasise that state marriage and church marriage have always been different in content and meaning. The situation that will come into force in Estonia from the new year will highlight this difference even more, while emphasising the sanctity of church marriage,” the archbishop of the Estonian Lutheran Church, Urmas Viilma, said, according to BNS.
As a result of the discussion, the archbishop put to the vote three alternatives for further action. Voting between ending the officiation of marriages, continuing them under existing conditions or continuing under specified conditions, the Episcopal Council overwhelmingly supported the latter alternative.
According to the decision, the clergy can continue to officiate marriages on behalf of the state from the new year, provided that the registered marriage is between a man and a woman. In addition, those getting married must meet the conditions necessary for the marriage to take place as understood and taught by the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Most Lutheran Churches support same-sex marriages
The Estonian parliament on 20 June passed an act that allows two adults to marry regardless of their gender, effectively legalising equal marriage from 1 January 2024 onwards. Estonia is the first of the formerly Soviet-occupied countries to legalise equal marriage.
The Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Norway allow same-sex marriage, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the largest Lutheran church in Europe that does not permit blessing of same-sex unions – despite ongoing controversy.