Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church temporarily suspends marriage registrations

  • 2023-07-07
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - The Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) has decided that the church will temporarily stop accepting applications from people who wish to register their marriage in the church from the new year onward, Postimees reports.

According to Archbishop Urmas Viilma, the church has taken this step to give itself time to think, and a decision will be made in the fall about what will happen next. Viilma explained that the decision was triggered by practical reasons. Specifically, during the process of amending the Family Law Act, the church's questions about what the amendment means for clergy who have been granted rights equal to those of a civil registrar repeatedly went unanswered. The church is concerned that the clergy may face a religious conflict in registering gender-neutral marriages as representatives of the state.

"If we officiate gender-neutral marriages on behalf of the state, but in the church we bless and officiate marriages that are between a man and a woman, are we dealing with two different marriages? And how will this be reflected, for example, in the documents that the clergy must receive from those getting married?" Viilma pondered.

He said that the current decision means that the church has taken a break to figure out the matter internally. In October, the church will have a more serious discussion about what to do next -- whether to continue marrying people on behalf of the state or to give it up completely.

"It would be wrong to accept their applications now and tell them after October to go and register their marriage in the civil registry office. We do not want to make people run back and forth," the archbishop said. He added that the suspension of acceptance of registration applications does not mean that churches will not perform blessings and weddings. If a couple wishes so, they have to formally register their marriage separately in the civil registry office. Viilma added that it is entirely possible that the church will not find any conflict at all and will ultimately be able to continue with marriage registrations.

Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo, who is currently on vacation, acknowledged that since this is a matter of family law, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, she does not know the official position of the Ministry of Justice, but her personal opinion is that the church is free in its decisions.

"The Family Law Act provides the opportunity for marriage to be officiated by clergy members who have undergone the corresponding civil registrar preparation, but it does not oblige to do it. Therefore, the church can make its own decisions," Riisalo said.