Norwegian bishops back gay marriage

Not all 12 Norwegian bishops personally favoured religious marriages for same-sex couples but all came together for the final vote (AFP Photo/Daniel Sannum Lauten)

Oslo (AFP) - Church of Norway bishops said Friday that they were unanimously in favour of allowing gay couples to marry in religious ceremonies, a hot-button issue to be decided on next year.

After a meeting lasting several days, the 12 bishops called for the synod -- the church's governing body -- to adopt new rules allowing the same rights to apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples when it comes to marriage in the church.

Last year's synod rejected a proposal allowing religious marriages to gay couples. But next year's April synod could bring change as the last church elections ushered in more liberal leadership.

"I am extremely satisfied that we succeeded in coming together over this measure," Helga Haugland Byfuglien, head of the bishop's conference, told agency NTB.

Not all bishops personally favoured religious marriages for same-sex couples but all came together for the final vote.

The text stipulates that each pastor could reserve the right to refuse to perform a ceremony for a gay couple.

"This is a historic breakthrough that all the bishops recommend a church marriage on an equal basis," Norwegian theologian Sturla Stalsett told public broadcaster NRK.

Norway is one of the more progressive European countries when it comes to gay rights. Civil unions and adoptions rights for homosexual couples have been allowed since 2009, and the church allows ordination of homosexuals.