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Legalizing same-sex marriage

Finland: the last Scandinavian country to do so.

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2014-NOV-26: Same-sex marriage in the Scandinavian countries:

Finland is one of the five Scandinavian countries in Europe. The other four are Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. As of 2014-NOV-27, Finland was the only Scandinavian country that did not allow same-sex couples to marry. The other four had attained marriage equality on:

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Role of religion in Finland:

In most countries, faith groups have played a major role in either opposing or promoting marriage equality for same-sex couples. That is also true for Finland.

The status of religion in Finland is typical of other Scandinavian countries: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is a state church to which about 78% of the population belongs. About 1% of the population belongs to the other state church, the Orthodox Church of Finland. Another 1.5% of Finns belong to one of the registered religious communities which includes the Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelical Free Church of Finland, Catholic Church in Finland, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Finland, etc. 1 About 20% are unaffiliated with any faith group.

Salla Korpela, writing for "This is Finland" said:

A generation ago, 90 percent of the Finnish population held membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, whereas now the number has shrunk to about 78 percent and is falling by about one percentage point annually. Ties between Church and State have also decreased.

'Church membership no longer forms a social norm,' says Irja Askola, bishop of Helsinki. 'Nowadays it’s more of a personal choice. Nor does the Church wield unquestioned authority anymore. This gives rise to a challenge -– the institution must become a living community -- and that’s a good development.'

While the role of the Church as an institution has weakened, its social role has grown. This becomes apparent in the reinforcement and expansion of diaconical work. For instance, the Church represents one of the most important providers of family counseling, and plays a central role in professional crisis work." 2

However, the Finns' near universal church membership is not reflected in church attendance. Fewer than one in 50 church members attend services regularly. This compares to about 40% of Americans who say they attend religious services weekly, and 20% who actually do attend. (Numbers in Canada are half these values.) Religion in Finland is a very private, personal matter and is rarely discussed at work or in social situations. 3

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The path towards legalization of same-sex marriage:

In Finland, the term "gender-neutral marriage" is frequently used to describe marriages by same-sex couples.

  • 1971: Consensual same-gender sexual behavior was decriminalized. 8

  • 1981: Homosexual orientation was formally declassified as an illness. 8

  • 2002: Same-sex couples became eligible to register their relationship as a civil union, and obtain most of the benefits of marriage. However, they were not permitted to adopt . One spouse was not allowed to take the last name of the other spouse. 8

  • 2013-FEB: A gay-positive organization, Tahdon 2013, attempted to submit a same-sex marriage citizen's petition to the government, but were not successful. 8

  • 2013-DEC: Tahdon 2013 successfully submitted a second petition. Debate was scheduled for 2014-NOV.
  • 2014-OCT: Päivi Räsänen, who heads the Christian Democrat party, threatened to take her party and its six MPs out of the government if same-sex marriage was legalized. This might break the present coalition.

  • 2014-NOV-20: The Members of Parliament (MPs) were seriously divided on the proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Members of Parliament from the Left Alliance, the Greens and the Swedish Peoples' Party firmly supported the bill. The Social Democratic Party mostly supported the bill; MPs from the National Coalition Party were divided; the Centre Party was mostly negative, and both the Finns Party and Christian Democrats were highly opposed. The future vote was too close to call. 7

  • During the lead-up to the vote, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland said:

    "For me, it is not a matter of opinion. It's a question of human dignity arising from the basis of the Christian faith." 8

  • 2014-NOV-28: Finland's Parliament passed a same-sex marriage bill: The vote was 105 in favor to 92 opposed, with one or two members of parliament absent (sources differ). The vote had been expected to be much closer. This is the first time in Finland's history that a bill which started as a citizens' initiative had became law. At least 5,000 people demonstrated at Citizen's Square adjacent to Parliament. The vast majority were celebrating passage of the bill. A small minority were demonstrating against the bill. 6 It is the fifth and final Scandinavian country, and the 12 European country, to attain marriage equality.

Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, addressed the crowd, saying:

    "It's a demonstration of civic activism and it's also a sign that Finnish legislation is approaching the same level as that of other Nordic and Western countries on this very delicate and difficult issue." 8

Timo Soini, leader of the Finns Party referred to marriage equality as:

    "...damaging. ... This will be the first time we make it normal for children to be removed from their biological roots."

In reality, he is wrong. Many, if not most, adoptions remove children from their biological roots and typically relocate them into a loving, supportive family.

  • 2014-NOV-28: Praise for the vote: Archbishop Kari Mäkinen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland praised the Legislature for voting to legalize marriage by same-sex couples. He said:

    "I know how much this day means to the rainbow community, their loved ones and many others. I rejoice with my whole heart for them and with them. ... Our concept of marriage needs a fundamental examination. Speaking for myself, I think it is time for reconsideration. It will take place from the standpoint of the church’s own principles." 5

  • 2014-NOV-28: Päivi Räsänen, Finland's Interior Minister and head of the Christian Democrat party, expressed disappointment: She said:

    "This is a deep question of principle. I believe that in the future a large group of Finns will continue to consider marriage to be [exclusively] a bond between a man and a woman, and that they will not consider relationships between people of the same gender to be marriages."

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  • 2014-NOV-28: Membership loss in the state church: Petri Karisma is the webmaster of the "Leave the Church" web site in Finland. He estimates that about 150 to 200 people leave the state church daily. However, he reported that on NOV-28, 2,612 individual used his web site to resign from the church. Some left comments, like:
    • "The church no longer functions according to the Bible."

    • "I left the church because Archbishop Kari Mäkinen’s blessing for gay marriage goes against the word of the Bible."

    • "The Archbishop’s comments and attitude to same-sex marriage" 4

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Religious communities," Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, undated, at:
  2. Salla Korpela, "Finnish Church aims to be down-to-earth," Finland Promotion Board, 2012, at:
  3. "Church attendance falls; religion seen as private," Yle News, 2012-MAR-06, at:
  4. "Lutheran church loses members over archbishop's support for marriage equality," Yle News, 2012-NOV-29, at:
  5. "Finnish Lutheran leader "rejoices" over same-sex marriage vote," Yle News, 2014-NOV-28, at:
  6. "Finnish Parliament approves same-sex marriage, " Yle News, 2014-NOV-28, at:
  7. "Yle straw poll: Gay marriage vote too close to call," Yle News, 2014-NOV-20, at:
  8. Reid Standish, "Finland becomes unlikely battleground for same-sex marriage debate," Foreign Policy, 2014-NOV-28, at:

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2014-NOV-29
Last updated 2014-NOV-29
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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