Ever since Iceland legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 the country has been a popular destination for gay weddings and now it seems more and more travellers are opting to get married here in the Old Norse way. Humanist weddings have become equally popular.
“There has been a massive increase in demand for same-sex wedding ceremonies in the last year, an explosion really,” says Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Pagan high chieftain of The Old Nordic Pagan Association, Ásatrúarfélagið, in Iceland. A big part of which he says are foreign citizens looking for an alternative wedding. “The pagan believe is very inclusive and we are open to all opinions,” he points out. “So we welcome all, gay or straight, Icelandic or foreign.”
Svanur Sigurbjörnsson, celebrant of Siðmennt – the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, reports a similar trend. “I would estimate that we married 20 same-sex couples last year,” he says and adds: “Since we got the legal rights to marry in May 2013 our celebrants have performed 108 weddings, over all, and last year we had 55 percent increase from the year before.”
You could say the increase is fitting seeing that both of these associations, alongside the National Queer organization (Samtökin ’78), were instrumental in bringing about the legislation of same-sex marriage in Iceland. It was perhaps a little predictable that an ethical humanist association would pair up with the gay rights movement in the fight, but many were surprised when an Old Nordic Pagan Association starting grabbing the headlines in their outspoken support for free marriage. Yes, old school Icelandic vikings showed they were indeed ready to raid those out-dated ideas, and raise their sword and voice to speak out for love. In fact their involvement was crucial in the fight.
“At the time I was asked by a young member of the pagan community why we didn’t wed gay couples? I had no idea why,” recalls Hilmar Örn. “So we got a couple of congress women to support us and eventually, in 2003, we got a legal opinion from the justice department stating there was absolutely no reason not to allow same-sex marriage.”
However the state church was not as rational about the whole matter, he says. Yet, after public declarations of support from many priests and public pressure the church caved in and love triumphed. That only took about seven years.
“There has been a massive increase in demand for same-sex wedding ceremonies in the last year, an explosion really.”
Once same-sex marriage had been legalized the question arose who should be allowed to perform the wedding ceremonies. Up to 2013 same-sex couples had the traditional choice of getting married in the somewhat less than romantic manner at the civic “Sýslumaður” office, or in a church. But at the time many priests refused to service gay couples.
Re-enter Ásatrúarfélagið and Siðmennt. Both associations wanted to offer alternative weddings. In fact they had been doing so for years. The problem was that they had no legal stand, only a ceremonious one. So the ceremony had to be completed by a trip to the civic office (i. Sýslumaður). A bit of a double dip, neither association was too happy about.
Again, the church didn’t quite see it that way. This time round it only took three years to change the law and the church’s monopoly on religious weddings disintegrated, becoming a thing of a past best forgotten. Today both association have the lawful right to wed couples, as said before and Svanur, from Siðmennt, believes the recent increase in demand for wedding ceremonies is only an indication of what is to come. “Since the younger generation is gradually turning away from religion,” he says, “I think our growth will continue, for many years to come.”
But how exactly do you go about it if you want to get married in Iceland? It’s fairly easy according to Svanur and Hilmar. They both point to websites of their associations, www. sidmennt.is and www.asatru.is, where all the necessary information is available, and also to LGBT travel agency Pink Iceland, which has been hugely successful in organizing wedding oriented holidays/trips in Iceland.
Main photo (and two below): pagan chieftain Haukur Bragason weds Scottish gay couple Paul and Marc Aitken at Hjörleifshöfði. Photo of couple in garden: courtesy of Elis Veigar Cole.