OSLO, Norway – The Norwegian government proposed a new marriage law Friday that would give gay couples the same rights as heterosexual pairs, including church weddings, adoption and assisted pregnancies.
It was not immediately clear whether the proposal would make it through parliament without changes. Even though the Labor-led coalition has a majority in the legislature, one of the three parties, Center, has said its representatives will be allowed to vote according to their consciences.
"This new marriage law is a step forward along the lines of voting rights for all and equality laws," said Minister of Children and Equality Anniken Huitfeldt.
The new legislation would replace a 1993 law that gives gays the right to enter civil unions similar to marriage, but refuses them the right to church weddings or to be considered as adoptive parents.
Like parliament, the three-party coalition was split on key points of the new law. For the first time since Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's government took office in October 2005, there was open dissent in the Cabinet over a legal proposal.
Minister of Local Government Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa and Transport Minister Liv Signe Navarsete said they could not support the right to assisted pregnancies for lesbian couples, but endorsed the remainder of the bill.
Parliament's second-largest bloc, the Party of Progress, and the smaller Christian Democratic Party both immediately said they would oppose the bill.
Huitfeldt, the government minister, said the law is important in assuring the rights and acceptance of all couples, and to protect their children.
"The new law does not weaken the institution of marriage, rather, it strengthens it," she said. "Marriage does not become less valuable because more people can take part in it."
The proposed law gives couples the right to a church wedding, but does not require any clergyman or religious organization to perform the ceremony. It said couples wanting to be married in church can do so in churches that accept gay marriage.
About 85 percent of Norway's 4.7 million people are registered as members of the state Lutheran Church of Norway, although far fewer are active. The church is split on the issue of gay marriage, and was likely to allow each congregation to decide whether to conduct homosexual weddings, as it did last year in allowing parishes to decide whether to accept clergymen living in gay partnerships.
In 1989, Denmark became the world's first country to allow civil unions for gays, similar to Norway's current law. In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country to offer full marriage rights to gay couples.