A motion tabled in the Swedish parliament and backed by three of the four parties in the coalition government would legalise gay marriage.

“Regardless of sexual orientation, people in stable couple relationships have a need to manifest their feelings and their desire to live together,” it reads.

While there is widespread public support for same-sex marriage, the Christian Democrat party has used its role as a junior coalition partner to lobby against the use of the word “marriage” for gay unions.

In January 2007 the Church of Sweden, which was disestablished in 2000, began offering religious blessings to gay unions and actively welcomed LGBT clergy.

A Lutheran denomination, it claims more than 7 million members out of a population of 9 million

Last year the Church agreed that marriage and partnership were equivalent forms of unions.

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

A 1987 law defines marriage as an union between man and woman.

Gay and lesbian couples can register their partnership through a civil ceremony, a process introduced in 1995 which gives same-sex couples the same rights as married couples.

A poll for the Sifo Institute published in January 2008 found that 71% of Swedes think gay people should be allowed to marry.

In November Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said:

“The coalition government has agreed that we will present a basic marriage bill to parliament.

“The three parties in favour of a gender neutral marriage law will then present an accompanying motion seeking to have such a law in place by May 1st 2009.”

The new law would allow church weddings, though clergy can opt out of performing gay ceremonies.