Sweden’s main Church said yesterday it will endorse same-sex couples to wed in church.

As the Swedish government prepares a “gender neutral” marriage law, the Church of Sweden agreed that marriage and partnership were equivalent forms of unions.

It recommended however that the term “marriage” be referred only to heterosexual couples.

The Swedish Church, a Lutheran branch of Christianity with more than 7 million members out of a population of 9 million, had been asked to express its opinion on the matter directly by the government, which intends to modify a 1987 law defining marriage as an union between man and woman.

Only one small party, the Christian Democratic Party, opposed the government’s new legislation. The other six political parties have all agreed with the proposed measure.

Once the law is passed, same-sex people will be able to marry in church, adopt children and will have all rights and duties of heterosexual married couples.

The new law would also replace a 1995 legislation, which was defined as “outdated” by the Parliamentary Committee appointed to study the issue.

It allowed civil partnerships, giving many rights and obligations, but had some restrictions.

The Archbishop of Uppsala Anders Wejryd, who is the leader of the Swedish Church, explained that after discussions in October on the matter, different opinions had emerged, but the prevailing one was that the word marriage had to be used only for unions between man and woman.

Some representatives asked that the church should abandon the legal element of the wedding ceremony.

“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,” said Wejryd.

A public opinion poll on the issue showed earlier this year that 46 per cent of Swedish people supported gay marriage, and 31 per cent opposed it.

Sweden is considered one of the most liberal countries in the world for LGBT rights, even though there have recently been some episodes of discrimination and violence.