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Jens Rydström

Jens Rydström

Professor emeritus

Jens Rydström

“Don’t forget that matrimony is a holy act, even when it is a civil ceremony”: Changes in sexual norms and the conceptualization of gay families in Scandinavia since the 1990s


  • Jens Rydström

Summary, in English

In 1994, a Swedish marriage registrar motivated his refusal to perform partnership registrations of same-sex couples by referring to matrimony—even non-religious marriage ceremonies—as a holy act. The perception of marriage as sacred and only intended for the union of man and woman was strong in the 1990s, but there seem to have been a rapid shift in the discursive field since then.

Between 1989 (Denmark) and 2002 (Finland), Scandinavian lesbians and gays were granted limited marital rights that also barred them from adoption, assisted fertilization, and joint custody of children. In 2009, however, Norway and Sweden adopted gender-neutral marriage laws, and all other Scandinavian countries have recognized the right of same-sex couples to raise children. The registered partnership laws were narrowly accepted by the parliaments while gender-neutral marriage was carried by broad majorities (67 percent in Norway and 92 percent in Sweden). Shortly thereafter, the State Church in both countries accepted church weddings of same-sex couples. The conceptual image of homosexual couples has thus evolved from barren relationships to that of fertile rainbow families existing in many different forms. Resistance to gay marriage has become relegated to the Christian Democratic parties.

Drawing on Gayle Rubin and Lee Edelman, this paper will discuss the rapid shift in sexual norms and the conceptualization of same-sex couples in Scandinavia. It argues that the registered partnership laws themselves have contributed to changing the discursive field. In this process, the alternatives discussed in the 1970s and 1980s, involving extended families, have disappeared from the discussions: the idea of lifelong fidelity between two persons has become the norm. However, the many same-sex parents who now demand to be included in the welfare state fabric of maternity wards, day-care centers, and schools, truly challenge old norms of what a family can look like.


  • Genusvetenskapliga institutionen








  • Gender Studies


  • homosexuality
  • gay marriage
  • registered partnership
  • Scandinavia

Conference name

American Historical Association's 125 Annual Meeting

Conference date


Conference place

Boston, Massachusetts, United States