The marriage law
The amended Finnish Marriage Act entered into force on 1 March 2017. In its current form, the law enables same-sex marriages and thus challenges the Church’s notion of marriage.
According to the Church, marriage is a union between a woman and a man; this was also the General Synod’s position, which it announced in its November 2015 report.
The Bishops’ Conference on the Church’s current marriage doctrine also stated in August 2016 that the right of pastors to officiate church marriages would remain unchanged in 2017, when the amended legislation took effect.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the marriage ceremony is governed by the Finnish church order (1055/1993) and the agenda. Pastors must observe these documents when officiating wedding ceremonies and consecrating civil marriages.
Church members, pastors and bishops nevertheless have differing views on the marriage issue. Several pastors have already married same-sex couples, which has resulted in complaints being made to the diocesan chapters in question. Because diocesan chapters exercise independent discretion in supervising pastors, they may resolve these complaints differently.
The General Synod resolves doctrinal issues
The General Synod resolves the church’s doctrinal issues, such as its notion of marriage. Important issues – including marriage teachings – require a three-quarters majority to pass at the General Synod.
The Bishops' Conference, the Church Council, diocesan boards and synod representatives can all propose doctrinal issues to the General Synod. Even proposals made by ordinary parish members may proceed to the General Synod.
The effects of the new marriage law
At the General Synod’s request, the Church Council’s plenum prepared a legal account about how the new marriage law affects the church. According to the account,
- the amended Marriage Act allows the church to maintain its right to independently define its marriage practices.
- the amended act does not oblige pastors to marry same-sex couples.
- same-sex marriages officiated by a pastor are valid if the ceremony meets the preconditions and formal requirements in the Marriage Act.
- same-sex couples will face no repercussions if they are married by a pastor. Diocesan chapters determine any possible repercussions to the pastor.
- experts do not see any constitutional grounds for the Church to change its notion of marriage and its marriage practices. In time, however, legislation and rules should be reconciled to the extent possible.