Prior to 2004, marriage in Norway was the sole purview of the state church - the Lutheran Church of Norway - or other recognized religious institutions. This responsibility included verifying the couple's eligibility to be married. Many groups argued that this lack of state oversight left some people at risk of forced marriage.
Human-Etisk Forbund, the Norwegian Humanist Association, is one of the largest Humanist organizations in the world with over 84,000 members. After almost a decade of applying for the right to perform marriages, the Norwegian authorities granted the group the authority in 2004. With their application, they also asked the state to take over the administration for all wedding ceremonies in Norway.
As a result of that lobbying, there is now a formalized bureaucracy for marriages in Norway. All now need to submit various documentation to the government. Bureaucrats then check to see if the couple has the legal right to get married in Norway. The government issues a marriage certificate and sends it to the couple. The couple then takes that document to any institution with the legal right to wed, for example a church, a mosque, the courthouse or the Norwegian Humanists. During or right after the wedding ceremony, the document is signed and then returned to the authorities who produce the legal marriage certificate for the couple.
A Humanist wedding in Norway. Human-Etisk Forbund
With this change – the authorities doing the legal work – it became apparent how the churches were discriminating in the provision of marriages in Norway. For example, the Church of Norway would refuse to marry same-sex couples, even though the couple had a valid marriage certificate. This caused a massive debate both within and outside the Church and resulted in a change in 2015. Today, same-sex couples can get married in the Church of Norway. Individual priests have the right to refuse to perform a ceremony if it goes against their own beliefs, in which case the couple will have to go to another priest or provider.
In 2009 a Norwegian Humanist officiant conducted the country’s first legal same-sex marriage ceremony.
The Norwegian Humanists are not completely satisfied with the status quo. Their main goal is to see that all couples in Norway are married legally by the government first, and then they can choose to go to any institution they want for a symbolic ceremony. This would mean that all citizens would be treated equally; no one could easily be forced into marriage or denied a legal marriage.
Today the Norwegian Humanists have 168 wedding officiants who conduct between 700-750 ceremonies across Norway each year. They operate a thorough process of educating officiants, ending with a certification lasting four years, at which point it must be renewed.
Statistics Norway, "Marriages contracted, by time and type of marriages".
Adapted from private communications from Tale Pleym, seremonirådgiver - vigsel, Human-Etisk Forbund