Switzerland’s Protestant Churches have voted in favour of giving a legal basis to same-sex marriage ahead of a parliamentary vote on the matter next year.

Driving the news

The Assembly of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (SEK), a Reformed association bringing together 26 member churches and nearly 1,000 congregations, voted 46 to 11 Tuesday in support of a “marriage for all” proposal.

“The delegates recommend that the member churches presuppose the opening of marriage for same-sex couples at civil law level, as well as the possibly new civil law concept of marriage for the church wedding”, a press release from the nation-wide SEK said.

However, the Assembly of the SEK also recommended to its member Churches that “the freedom of conscience of pastors… be safeguarded” and that individual pastors be allowed to decide for themselves whether they wish to officiate same-sex wedding.

“The assembly of delegates has made a point to stress that different notions of marriage remain possible in the Protestant Church”, the SEK further explained.

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The favourable vote of the SEK Assembly Tuesday came after the Council of that same body endorsed in August the opening-up of civil marriages to same-sex couples.

The SEK Council recommended on that occasion that pastors employ for the marriages of same-sex couples “the same liturgical celebration as that used in the weddings of heterosexual couples”.

In July, the SEK Council had issued draft legislation on gay weddings in which it agreed “that the fullness of the divine act of creation is reflected in the variety of sexual orientations”.

“God wants us the way we were created. We cannot choose our sexual orientation. We see it as an expression of created abundance”, the SEK Council affirmed in a June position paper.

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For the record

Swiss media reported that although the same-sex marriage vote passed comfortably in the SEK Assembly, there was opposition to the move from more conservative groups.

Criticism came for example from Peter Schneeberger, president of the Association VFG Free Churches Switzerland, who told Livenet.ch that “marriage between men and women, because of their potential, has a special status in our view and is based on God’s order of creation”.

Schneeberger also said affirming same-sex marriage would distance the Protestant Churches from their Catholic and Orthodox counterparts.

But the Swiss Catholic Church is hardly unanimous in its opposition to giving a legal basis to same-sex marriage.

At the end of August, Basel diocesan spokesman Hansruedi Huber said the local Church welcomed proposed regulations “that give homosexual partnerships a stable and reliable legal cover”.

“It is important to us that children who grow up in same-sex partnerships receive a legal framework that serves the best interests of the child”, Huber said at the time.

In August, too, the President of the Synodal Council of Zürich’s Catholic Church, laywoman Franziska Driessen-Reding, said that the Swiss bishops “do not fundamentally reject the civil marriage for all”.

What’s next

At any rate, most political parties in Switzerland – where civil partnerships have been available since 2007 – support legalising same-sex marriage, except for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and the centrist Protestant Party.

The country’s House of Representatives is due to debate a same-sex marriage bill next year.

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