Denmark’s new laws allowing gay couples to marry in the state church have come into effect today.

The Folketing approved gender-neutral marriage last week by 85 votes to 24.

The Stefanskirken in Copenhagen draped a rainbow flag over its front and erected a banner reading: “Love knows no gender – congratulations Denmark”.

Danish gay news service Homotropolis said many churches in Copenhagen were planning to release rainbow-coloured balloons after services on Sunday morning in celebration of their new freedom to marry gay couples.

Charlotte Cappi Grunnet, minister in St. Thomas Church in Frederiksberg told Homotropolis: “It is extremely important and wonderful to be able to celebrate that we are finally able to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church.

“The fact that priests have been prevented from carrying out same-sex marriages has been a violation of the Christian belief, of love and of human equality. Until now I have been forced to treat others as if their love was inferior and second class.”

The state Lutheran Church, to which 80 percent of the Danish population belongs, will be able to perform marriage ceremonies under the new laws. New suggested rites were written up by ten of the Church’s eleven bishops in a spirit of “good cooperation”, Bishop Kjeld Holm said.

According to the Copenhagen Post, one of the new prayers for gay couples reads: “Dear God, Heavenly Father. Our lives are in your hand. You follow us through the days and nights. We thank you for the people we share our life with, for every loving glance, in whose light we have matured, and for each meeting: which has opened the world. We ask you, spread your loving sky above us and strengthen us by your grace, so we never hesitate to put our lives in each others’ hands. Amen.”

The bishop of Helsingør, Lise Lotte Rebel, was reported to have said the rites “seem to accentuate the romantic notion of love between people”, turning the focus from God and creating “a major theological problem”.

Gay couples will be able to marry in state churches of their choice but priests will not be obliged to perform weddings. They would, however, need to help the couple find a priest who would marry them at the church under the new laws.

Other faith groups are not compelled to allow gay wedding ceremonies in their places of worship.