Long-time LGBTQ activist and openly gay priest in the Church of Sweden, Lars Gårdfeldt, has promised to stop performing marriage ceremonies for straight people to protest a rule within the Church that allows newly ordained priests to refuse to marry same-sex couples.
While speaking with state broadcaster Sverige Radio, Gårdfeldt said as long as other priests in the Church of Sweden can refuse marriage ceremonies to homosexual couples, that he will continue to refuse to marry heterosexual couples.
The priest’s words come amid a renewed debate on the subject, and just ahead of the Church’s elections, which were held last weekend. Several political parties within the Church would like to prohibit individual priests from refusing same-sex marriage ceremonies.
During the interview, Gårdfeldt argued that the rules that allow heterosexual priests to deny marriage ceremonies to homosexuals should also apply the other way around, meaning that gay priests like himself should be able to choose not to marry straight couples.
“Then the same thing must apply to me as a homosexual, then I can say no to heterosexual couples,” he said.
“I want to show the absurdity, theologically and ethically reprehensible, of denying marriage to consenting adults. I want to turn the debate right. We should not recruit new anti-gay priests. We should not ordain new priests who pass on the idea that homosexuals are inferior people,” Gårdfeldt told the Göteborgs-Posten.
Commenting on Gårdfeldt’s obstinate position, Torgny Lindén, the Press Secretary of the Diocese of Gothenburg, told the Swedish newspaper Expressen: “We have freedom of expression in this country. Lars Gårdfeldt has entered the debate and said this. We have no opinion on this.”
Gårdfeldt, who’s been an LGBT activist within the Church of Sweden for more than two decades now, married his ex-male partner in Canada in 2006 before same-sex marriages were permitted in the Swedish church. He says he’s been marrying same-sex couples before it was considered acceptable by the Church to do so.
An election survey carried out last month, just ahead of this month’s elections, revealed a stark divide within the Church, with six of the 11 nominating groups saying that do not support forcing priests to conduct same-sex marriages while the remaining five say that performing same-sex services should be mandatory for all priests within the Church.
Mats Rimborg, president of the Party Political Unbound in the Church of Sweden (POSK) in the Diocese of Gothenburg, weighed in on the debate, saying: “It is a freedom of expression issue. Even priests must have the right to freedom of opinion.”
The Church of Sweden, which is an Evangelical Lutheran Church and the national church of the country, is well-known for being the largest Lutheran denomination and most radically progressive church on the continent. Despite that, however, membership within the church has declined precipitously within the last 20 years. A total of 104 churches have closed their doors for good between the years 2000 and 2019.
As per 2018 calculations made by the diocese, the church is projected to lose up to one million members by 2028.