A group of Lutherans controlling 719 parishes in west Germany have said they will start marrying gay and lesbian couples.
The Lutheran Church in the Rhineland, Germany’s second-biggest territorial church, voted on the decision during their synod today (15 January).
It is also the second territorial church area out of 20 to open marriage ceremonies to all couples; the Lutheran Church of Hesse-Nassau was first to adopt a similar change in church constitution.
Only seven out of 211 voting attendees voted against treating same-sex marriages the same as their straight counterparts and allowing all couples to sign the church register.
Until now, gay couples could only receive a consecration or blessing, which does not count as a religious ceremony. The new change in church constitution abolishes this separation.
‘I’m very happy about this decision, because it is inspired by what should be at the heart of marriage,’ North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister of Emancipation, Barbara Steffens (Green Party), told queer.de.
‘Loving devotion, which all humans can experience, no matter their sexual orientation.’
During a debate, members said there was ‘no legal or theological reason for a different treatment of married couples and those living in a civil partnership’ according to German public broadcaster SWR.
With Cologne, one of Germany’s gay hubs and often named as Germany’s gayest city, at its heart, the Lutheran Church in the Rhineland has always been known to hold a liberal stance. In 2000, before same-sex couples could enter civil partnerships, they already offered a ‘liturgical companionship’.
Couples who celebrated this companionship will subsequently be able to convert it into a religious marriage and sign the church register.
While pastors and congregations cannot be forced to marry gay couples in their church, couples will be able to marry in another parish than their home.
Most territorial churches are reportedly debating opening religious ceremonies to all couples, with the Lutheran Church of Berlin-Brandenburg expected to change their constitution to include same-sex couples in April.
The churches literally translate as Evangelical but are better described as Lutheran, and are closer to Protestant churches than the Evangelical churches of the US and UK.