13,000 Quit Finnish Church in Gay Marriage Row

More than 13,000 people have left Finland's Lutheran Church in three days in a row over gay marriage after an archbishop said he "rejoiced" that it could soon be legal.

Archbishop Kari Makinen said he "rejoiced from the bottom of his heart" on Friday at parliament's vote approving a people's petition that paves the way for a same-sex marriage law.

However, high-level Lutheran official Jukka Keskitalo said on Sunday the vote "doesn't change (the church's) idea of marriage," which remains the union between a man and a woman.

The conflicting comments managed to enrage both conservative and liberal wings of the church in the last Nordic country where gay marriage is not legal.  

From Friday to Sunday more than 13,000 people quit the church in protest, according to, a website set up to help people leave Finland's state churches.

Quitting means they will be no longer pay church taxes, which are gathered for the Lutheran Church by the state. 

"The archbishop's message was destined for liberal members of the church, but it turned against the church itself," said Petri Karisma, president of the League of Free Thinkers, which created the site.   

Some 5,200 people left the church on Sunday alone, the largest number in a single day in four years. 

About 4.1 million Finns, or 75 percent of the population, belong to the Lutheran Church, compared to over 90 percent in the 1970s.

Finland's parliament voted on Friday in favor of same-sex marriage in a victory for campaigners who gathered thousands of signatures to force it to examine the issue.

The "citizens' initiative" will not automatically result in legalizing gay marriage but simply launches the process for parliament to examine the issue before a final vote.

Campaigners collected 166,851 signatures, more than three times the 50,000 required by Finnish law to force a vote in parliament.

Finland has recognized same-sex partnerships since 2002. 

The new marriage law, if approved, is not expected to come into force before 2016.

Source: Agence France Presse

Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved.