A proposal by Sweden’s three opposition parties in to legalise gay marriage has divided the Church of Sweden.

Until 2000 the Church was established, meaning was is the official state religion. It now has autonomy from the government.

However, it now faces being required to marry gay and lesbian couples or withdraw completely from performing the legal element of marriages.

The Church governing body has voted 161 to 74 in favour of retaining the right to carry out legally-binding weddings as opposed to merely religious ceremonies.

Archbishop Anders Wejryd told thelocal.se:

“Those who voted did so on the basis of current legislation. If the law changes, the issue will return.

“I think the type of discussion we have had contributes to our cohesiveness.

“It has been an honest discussion that shows our great willingness to live together within the church. So it doesn’t worry me.

“I am not of the opinion that everybody in the church should agree with each other. We have to be mature enough to live with a variety of opinions.”

Earlier this year a tenth of the priests in the Church of Sweden signed a petition opposing gay and lesbian church weddings.

Opinion polls show that 46% of Swedes are in favour of gay marriage, with 31% opposed.

Given the governing coalition’s slim majority, only four MPs would need to vote in favour of the opposition motion for it to pass.

Gay rights activists are confident that there is enough support to ensure the law is changed.

The Green party, Left party and Social Democrats’ motion, if passed, would make Sweden the fourth country in Europe to legalise gay marriage after Holland, Spain and Belgium.

Swedish gay and lesbian couples have had the right to civil partnerships since 1995, but many liberal politicians and LGB activists feel that they are out of date.

A parliamentary committee last year agreed, and recommended that gay couples be given full marriage rights, including the right to get married in the national Church of Sweden.

In 2006 the Church approved blessings of same-sex partnerships and actively welcomed LGBT clergy.