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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage and civil unions

In Norway

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During 1993, the government of Norway passed legislation that created a system of civil unions for same-sex couples. It gave such couples many of the rights routinely assigned to opposite-sex married couples. However, church ceremonies, getting married, and the adoption of children were not allowed.

On 2008-JUN-17, the country's upper house of parliament voted 23 to 17 in favor of passing a gender-neutral marriage law that will allow same-sex couples to marry as of 2009-JAN-01. The lower house had already voted 84 to 41 in favor of the same law during the previous week. The legislation allowed same-sex couples to marry, and receive all of the rights and obligations of marriage, including the adoption of children, and access to artificial insemination procedures.

Also under the law, clergy are allowed to perform same-sex marriages in churches if the majority of their congregation approves. However either can opt out of this option.

This made Norway the sixth nation to create same-sex marriage laws, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, and South Africa.

Civil unions:

The parliament passed a Registered Partnership Act in 1993 that gave same-sex couples almost all of the rights and obligations of married couples. Not included was the ability to adopt children or to undergo artificial insemination. The text of the law, in Norwegian, is available online. 6

In the two other Scandinavian countries, Denmark created civil unions in 1990, and Sweden did the same in 1994.

Darren Spedale, an independent researcher visited Denmark in 1996 on a Fulbright scholarship. He found that in the six years following the establishment of registered partnerships in Denmark opposite-sex marriage rates climbed by 10 percent, while opposite-sex divorce rates declined by 12 percent. These data have been criticized by social and religious conservatives because of the instability in family and marriage traditions in these countries in recent decades. 5

In 2002, an amendment to the Act allowed registered partners to adopt each other's children. Approximately 150 couples registered their partnerships with the government each year.

Support for same-sex marriage (SSM):

Gay rights groups complained that the two tier system of marriage for opposite-sex couples and civil unions for same-sex couples created two classes of citizenship.

In 2003, a poll by EOS Gallup Europe found that 61% of adult Norwegians favored legalizing same-sex marriage. On 2004-NOV-18, two members of parliament from the Socialist Left Party suggested that the government introduce a gender-neutral marriage law to replace the existing civil union legislation. The suggestion was not picked up by the government at the time. However, when the "second cabinet Stoltenberg" assumed power on 2005-OCT-17, its foundation document -- the Soria Moria statement -- included such a law. By this time, public support for SSM had increased to 63% When public hearings were held starting on 2007-MAY-16, support had further increased to about 66%.

Government introduces bill to legalize SSM; protests result:

The government introduced a gender-neutral marriage law on 2008-MAR-13. Anniken Huitfeldt, the minister in charge of family issues, called the bill: "an historic step towards equality." She said:

 "The new law won't weaken marriage as an institution. Rather, it will strengthen it. Marriage won't be worth less because more [couples] can take part in it." 3

Two political parties immediately announced that they would oppose the bill: the Party of Progress and the Christian Democratic Party. These two parties normally promote conflicting policies, However, they found common ground in their opposition to marriage equality and formed an alliance to oppose the bill. One of their concerns was that conservative Christian schools might lose their state funding if they continued to teach students that marriage is only valid if the spouses are of opposite genders. 9 Meanwhile, two opposition parties, the Labor Party and the Socialist Left announced in 2008-MAY that they would support the bill. This essentially guaranteed its passage.

Gunn Karin Gjul of the Labor Party, said: "A universal marriage law allows homosexuals to marry, be considered as adoptive parents and have assisted pregnancies, just like heterosexuals. This means we're removing all discrimination of homosexuals." On another occasion he said: "This decision is of an importance comparable to universal suffrage and our law on parity."

Opposition to the bill:

"Hundreds of demonstrators," Conservative Christians, Muslims and members of other religions from throughout Norway demonstrated in Oslo to protest marriage equality. They seemed to believe that the proposed law would prevent opposite-sex couples from marrying. They shouted "Yes to marriage between men and women." They later attempted to prevent counter-demonstrators from speaking in favor of the bill.

Some supporters of the bill had referred to it as "...a victory for romance and reason." Former Bishop Per Lanning spoke to the at the Oslo demonstration, equating that comment to nonsense "typical of our times." 10

The most controversial part of the law appears to be the provision for the artificial insemination of lesbians and bisexuals in same-sex relationships.  Apparently some of those opposed to the law were unaware that women have had access to this procedure for decades. Member of parliament Ulf Erik Knudsen said: "We are now creating a system where the father is reduced to a sperm sample." There were a handful of opponents protesting outside parliament with posters reading: "Have fathers become superfluous?" and "Parliament has no mandate to change the laws of nature." They seem to overlook the fact that a genetic father is still needed for conception; to create a virgin birth -- a successful conception and birth without sperm -- remains a miracle well beyond the competence of the Parliament.

The identity of the biological father involved in artificial insemination must be recorded. When the child reaches adulthood, she/he is allowed to learn of his identity. Health care workers can refuse to participate in inseminations if it violates their personal convictions.  7

The only significant effect that the law will have for lesbians and bisexuals who wish to conceive via artificial insemination is a matter of personal convenience. They will no longer have to travel to Denmark or some other country for the procedure.

The law also includes a provision that would give both partners in a lesbian relationship full parental rights "... from the moment of conception."

The bill becomes law:

The bill passed both houses of parliament by JUN-11with a comfortable two-thirds majority. It became effective on 2009-JAN-01. 2

Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, also leads the Socialist Left Party, told news bureau NTB: "I am extremely pleased that we managed to get this last stage passed. Now we have to tackle the prejudice which still exists in society." As elsewhere, religious conservatives expressed concern that allowing same-sex couples to marry would injure the institution itself. Progress Party members expressed concern about how children would cope with same-sex marriages. 8


  1. "Norway approves same-sex marriage," Associated Press, 2008-JUN-18, at:
  2. "Recognition of gay unions in Norway," Wikipedia, at:
  3. "Norway Moves To Legalize Gay Marriage." 365gay at:
  4. "Majority in Norwegian parliament agrees on new law allowing gay weddings, adoptions ," Associated Press, 2008-MAY-29, at:
  5. Stanley Kurtz, "The End of Marriage in Scandinavia. The 'conservative case' for same-sex marriage collapses," The Weekly Standard, 2004-FEB-02, at:
  6. Text of the law on registered partnerships, in Norwegian, LOV 1993-04-30 nr 40 is at:
  7. Rhonda Mangus, "Norway Adopts Same-Sex Marriage Policy: Sperm Donor Must Be Identified," NowPublic, 2008-JUN-14, at:
  8. Catherine Stein, "Same sex marriage law passed by wide majority," AftenPosten, 2008-JUN-12, at:
  9. "Gay marriage bill creates strange political bedfellows," AftenPosten, 2008-MAY-28. at:
  10. Nina Berglund, "Opponents marched against gay marriage law," 2008-APR-14, at:

Copyright 2008 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-JUN-19
Latest updated and reviewed: 2010-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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