Per-Kristian Foss, Norway’s Auditor General and a former longtime Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, has called the Norwegian Church’s refusal to marry gays and lesbians in the church “a slap in the face for homosexuals.” On the eve of the Easter holidays, Foss, who is gay himself, is now considering withdrawing his membership in the state church.
“This is like putting a ‘B-person’ stamp on a certain type of people,” Foss told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday, three days after the Norwegian Church’s annual meeting voted against marrying homosexuals in church or blessing homosexuals who had married in civil ceremonies. Debate has raged since, not least among homosexuals who, like Foss, are pondering whether to withdraw in protest from the church many literally were born into, or to stay and keep fighting for equal rights from within.
Foss, a former Norwegian finance minister who has been part of the leadership of the Conservative Party for decades, wants to marry his own long-time partner, media executive Jan Erik Knarbakk, in a church ceremony but now faces rejection of such a request. The two have been legal partners since a civil ceremony in 1993.
“I think it’s embarrassing that the church is even quarreling over this,” Foss said, pointing out the irony that the church, which is Evangelical Lutheran, will baptize, confirm and hold funerals for homosexuals but not ceremoniously wed them into a marriage meant to last for life.
“There’s no doubt that the role of the church in people’s lives has now been weakened,” Foss told Dagsavisen. “I just don’t understand this.”
Since the annual church meeting decided against allowing marrying homosexuals, more than 17,000 people have clicked on the church’s website page that relates the procedure for withdrawing from the church. Debate also has been brisk on social media sites.
“There is a storm over this now, and we will see more withdrawals,” said Siv Thompson of the Norwegian Church’s communications office.
Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, meanwhile, has asked Oslo Bishop Ole Christian Kvarme to open Oslo’s churches for homosexual marriages. If Kvarme refuses to do so, Stang said he will allow religious wedding ceremonies within City Hall.
“I have a hope that the bishop is a thoughtful man who understands that the time has come to open up all the churches in this city,” Stang told Dagsavisen. Kvarme, however, is a conservative bishop who earlier has refused to marry homosexuals himself.
“If Kvarme won’t go along with this, I will open up the Munch Room in City Hall for religious ceremonies,” Stang said. “I’m sure there are good pastors in this city who are willing to perform such ceremonies there.”