Archbishop: Coalition acts like a thief pushing through marriage equality
When government members talk about using an opportunity to legalize marriage equality, it reminds me of a pickpocket using a time-out to slip their hand in someone else's pocket, Urmas Viilma, the archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC), said.
Social Protection Minister Signe Riisalo (Reform) said that the new government hopes to send the marriage bill to the Riigikogu before the summer holidays, and they want to meet with church representatives, among others, to discuss the bill.
Viilma said that there are approximately 70 clergy in the EELC who have the authority to register weddings in the name of the state, thus it is only reasonable that the church be included in discussions on this matter.
Viilma said that the churches in Estonia have the clear position: marriage is a partnership between a man and a woman that derives from the Bible, i.e. it is a religious foundation that cannot be modified by talks.
"Those churches in other parts of the world that have introduced same-sex marriages have not changed the Bible, but the church has adapted itself to local circumstances," he said. "At the moment, I do not see any readiness or willingness to do this in the churches."
He said the subject of gender-neutral marriage remains relatively new in Estonia, and the church finds itself in the same situation as when the Cohabitation Act was passed in 2014.
Viilma said that at the time, the council of churches offered a number of ideas, but not all issues were addressed.
"Today, everyone agrees that that the speedy enactment of the Cohabitation Act in 2014 was bad politics and not a good example of political culture. We are again in the same situation where members of the government are talking about seizing the window of opportunity that has gone unnoticed. /.../ It reminds me of a pickpocket using a time-out to slip their hand in someone else's pocket, or a fuel station thief waiting till the teller looks around to grab anything from the counter. I don't believe that exploiting the window of opportunity is a good political culture to have in a democracy," the archbishop said.
According to Viilma, a compromise could be to discuss issues of the Cohabitation Act again and solve the legal and other problems of same-sex people, but at the moment the government wants to adopt both the implementing of the Cohabitation Act and to make marriage gender-neutral.
Viilma pointed out that while it is sometimes said that the amendment does not take anything away from anyone, he, as a representative of the church, does feel that this marriage, which has so far been clearly based on scripture and the Bible in Christian Western culture, is being taken away from them.
"What does it mean, then, to begin discussing two distinct marriages? And how can church representatives register two different types of marriage, one a sacred marriage and the other a legal marriage in the name of the state, and what does this imply for society? These issues must be resolved," the church leader said.
He added that, in fact, this does not take into account freedom of religion, nor does it take into account another minority, Christians.
"Solving the problems of one minority, which could also be resolved by going over the Cohabitation Act in detail, disregards the other minority and their religious beliefs, despite the fact that this is also a constitutional obligation - to ensure religious freedom," Viilma added.
How can we change the definition of marriage, he asked, in the same way in Europe people argue over defining such trivial terms as whether all cheese is cheese or all milk is milk?
"The notion of marriage is simply being replaced because today it is a time-window and there is a group of people who don't even really have a voter mandate. They're taking advantage of this opportunity, just as they did with the Cohabitation Act. Somehow I think that a few years down the line they will say that this was not good political culture either," Viilma said.
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Editor: Karin Koppel, Kristina Kersa