Evangelical Church in Austria paves the way for same-sex marriage blessings

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The General Synod of the Evangelical Church in Austria (EKO) has voted in favour of allowing blessings for same-sex unions. 

Head bishop Michael Buenker said the measure - which passed by 45 votes to 18 last weekend - was a 'significant step towards equality for gay couples'. 

The final draft of the resolution allows for same-sex couples who are already in a civil union to receive a blessing in a church worship service. 

The Church said it would continue to hold fast to the biblical definition of marriage as a 'lifelong faithful, monogomous union between a man and a woman' but that the new blessing services would be viewed by the Church as 'on a par' with heterosexual marriage ceremonies. 

The bishop added, 'I am personally satisfied with this outcome ... I am proud of this church.' 

He said that conservative churches would not be forced to conduct a blessing service for gay couples if they held a conscientious objection and that it would be up to individual congregations to decide if they wanted to offer them. 

'The individual conscience of pastors and readers in regards to whether they are for or against blessings for same-sex couples will be respected,' he said. 

Evangelical Focus reports that some in the Church are not happy with the new measure and that there are concerns that the change of direction will lead to a schism. 

Superintendent of the Higher Austria region of the EKO, Gerold Lehner, told the website that he could not in good conscience support the new blessing services because 'what the Bible says about this issue is very clear'. 

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