PARIS (Christian Examiner) – Two years after France legalized same-sex marriage, the United Protestant Church of France (EPUF) has authorized its clergy to bless same-sex marriages, the French news service RFI has reported.
The EPUF, formed from the union of Lutheran and Reformed churches in France in 2013 and currently the nation's largest Protestant group, is the latest western European denomination to succumb to public pressure on the issue of gay marriage since the Church of Sweden adopted the practice in 2009.
On Saturday, the general assembly of the Church of Scotland also voted to allow the ordination of homosexual ministers and deacons who are in civil partnerships.
According to a statement from the Scottish church, the vote means "the church has adopted a doctrinal position which maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman, but allows individual congregations to 'opt out' if they wish to appoint a minister or a deacon in a same-sex civil partnership."
The Church of Scotland's 400,000 members began debating same-sex relationships before the country passed its law allowing same-sex marriage in 2014, so the new regulations in the church only deal with civil partnerships and not marriages, the statement from the church said. It will, however, likely soon introduce policies creating opportunities for homosexuals engaged in same-sex marriages to serve as clergy.
In France, same-sex marriage was authorized in 2013 over the public protests of large numbers of traditional Catholics. France recently appointed an ambassador who is gay to the Vatican. Pope Francis has yet to acknowledge the ambassador's mission.
Laurent Schlumberger, EPUF's president, said a large majority of its voting representatives (97 percent) approved the blessing of same-sex marriage, though he acknowledged "different opinions remain in our church on this question."
"The synod has decided to take a step forward in accompanying people and these couples by opening the possibility of celebrating liturgical blessings if they want," Schlumberger said, according to Reuters.
With its 400,000 members, the EPUF is the fourth largest religious group in France – behind Catholicism, Islam and Judaism.
In Scotland, the outgoing moderator of the Church of Scotland's assembly of presbyteries said he believed the church would find "harmony" on the issue of same-sex marriage.
"Of course we need the freedom across the Church to shape the life and worship of the Church according to local needs and local gifts ... but we cannot go on suffering the pain of internal attacks which are designed to undermine the work or the place of others. It's time to play for the team," the Very Rev. John Chalmers told the assembly May 18.
"And let me be very clear here – I am not speaking to one side or another of the theological spectrum. I am speaking to both ends and middle. It is time to stop calling each other names, time to shun the idea that we should define ourselves by our differences and instead define ourselves by what we hold in common - our baptism into Christ, our dependence on God's grace, our will to serve the poor and so on," Chalmers said.
"It was the gift of Jesus to get people to look past religious structures, it was the gift of Jesus to drill deeper than moral assertions and it was the gift of Jesus to give people an inner life that transformed their engagement with the outer world."
Various Protestant groups in Western Europe have struggled with the issue of same-sex marriage since governments there began legalizing same-sex marriage there in 2009. Sweden was first and has now seen the appointment of its first openly lesbian bishop in Stockholm. Eva Brunne, appointed in 2009, is also first Swedish minister to be in a legally recognized same-sex partnership.
Denmark's church opened its marriage rites to same-sex couples in 2012 after the government mandated it provide wedding services to homosexuals. Norway followed suit in 2014. While legislation has been introduced in Parliament to change marriage laws in England, according to the bishops in the Church of England, "the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged."