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social sciences

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A shift in public opinion gradually took place and sentiment came to favor glbtq equality. The first step towards gay and lesbian marriage was taken in 1987, when the Law on Cohabitation passed the Riksdag. It was followed by the Law of Partnership in 1995. This law has been celebrated as a major step in establishing equality for same-sex couples with heterosexual married couples.

Some gay activists reacted against it and called it a "second class citizen's law," largely because the partnership did not confer the right to adopt children. Undoubtedly, however, it made homosexual couples visible in society to a much larger degree than previously, when couples simply lived together without any official recognition, often without even mentioning their union to their relatives. After Law of Partnership came into effect, relatives frequently participated in partnership ceremonies.

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A law against discrimination at workplaces and an ombudsman to investigate charges of discrimination were initiated in 1999. The Ombudsman against Discrimination on grounds of Sexual Orientation (HomO) is appointed by the government and charged with combating and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in all areas of Swedish society. Hans Ytterberg (b. 1956) became the first HomO. He has both experience as a judge and a long record of leadership within RFSL.

Work to improve the social position of gay men and lesbians continues. In 2003 the long awaited possibility to adopt children and to become foster parents became a reality. Two women or two men living together can now both be parents of their common children. The non-biological mother or father adopts her or his partner's children, and the same rights are accorded as for heterosexual custody. In 2003, a ban on inciting violence against homosexuals as a group was adopted.


The first recorded case of AIDS in Sweden was documented in 1982. The new disease brought much alarm, and an epidemic was feared. AIDS temporarily created a backlash against the glbtq community.

To prevent spread of the disease, much effort was directed towards organizations dealing with homosexual men. These efforts included a strengthening of RFSL and a creation of an HIV-secretariat working within RFSL. HIV education, especially the need for contraceptives, permeated all of society.

As an unexpected result Sweden adopted some of the world's harshest laws against spreading infectious disease. Those convicted under these laws may be kept in custody for an indefinite time.

In 1987 gay saunas were banned, at the instigation of the Minister of Social Affairs, Gertrud Sigurdsen (Bastuklubbslagen). A place where men could have casual sex with strangers was seen as threatening and possibly contributing to the spread of HIV.

Political agitation led to the repeal of this law in 2003. The harsh laws against spreading infectious diseases remain on the books, however. Such laws follow the Swedish welfare state's legal tradition of regularizing social affairs that affect the whole of society.

The Church of Sweden

In 2000, the Church of Sweden separated from the State. An attempt is underway to make it possible for gay and lesbian couples to marry in church. A meeting of bishops in 2003 created a commission to produce a report on how to deal with partnership ceremonies within the church.

Some church officials still regard homosexuality as a sin. An exhibition called "Ecce homo," which featured depictions of Christ in glbtq-environments, produced by Elisabeth Ohlson (b. 1961), caused much alarm in 1998. The indefatigable work of EKHO (The Ecumenical Groups of Christian Homosexuals and Bisexuals) has, however, yielded some fruit.

Marriage Equality

On April 1, 2009, the Swedish Parliament approved legislation permitting same-sex marriage, making Sweden the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. On May 1, 2009, gender-neutral marriage licenses will be issued.

The legislation, passed with the support of six of the seven parties in Parliament and by a 261 to 22 vote, does not compel churches to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, though it is believed that many churches will choose to wed gay and lesbian couples.


A long political struggle to make glbtq people visible in society has now made it possible for two women or two men to bind themselves together in marriage and adopt their common children. Bisexual men and women can live freely and with a fairly good degree of understanding from the common citizen.

persons are popular in show business and at gay bars, but still have to fight a great deal of prejudice. On the whole, however, the position of glbtq persons in Sweden has changed immensely for the better in the last forty years.

The Nordic countries have a long tradition of coordination of laws. Their progressive attitudes toward sexual variance has been influential on the European Union as a whole.

Jan Magnusson

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social sciences >> Overview:  AIDS Law

AIDS law comprises the legal principles contained in the body of statutes, regulations, administrative rulings, and judicial decisions that emerged in response to legal issues presented by the AIDS epidemic.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

Cross-dressers have often been misunderstood and maligned, especially in societies with rigid gender roles.

social sciences >> Overview:  Domestic Partnerships

"Domestic partnership" is the generic term for a variety of forms of legal and institutional recognition of same-sex couples that fall short of same-sex marriage.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Twentieth Century

A large number of significant twentieth-century European artists focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender themes, making such concerns crucial to the understanding of twentieth-century European art.

social sciences >> Overview:  Finland

Like other Nordic countries, Finland is liberal in regards to gay rights, though it has been slower than its neighbors to assure glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Lutheranism

Lutheranism is riven into numerous denominations, which vary widely in their attitudes toward homosexuality and in their acceptance of gay men and lesbians as full participants in church life.

social sciences >> Overview:  Parades and Marches

Both parades and marches have served to render the glbtq community visible; whereas marches typically attempt to effect political change, parades and pride events affirm identity and community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy

First used to refer only to anal intercourse, sodomy was progressively defined by the Church Fathers, and many later lawmakers, to include all sexual acts that could not result in procreation.

social sciences >> Overview:  Stockholm

One of Europe's most progressive cities, Stockholm has recently become notably gay-friendly.

literature >> Overview:  Swedish Literature

Same-sex love in Swedish literature is largely a nineteenth- and twentieth-century phenomenon, and recently gay and lesbian publications have appeared in significant numbers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Switzerland

Switzerland is a very cosmopolitan nation with a vibrant glbtq community, but it has lagged behind much of Europe, particularly the Nordic countries, when it comes to assuring equal rights.

arts >> Adrian-Nilsson, Gösta (GAN)

Regarding his sexuality as a fundamental component of his creativity, Swedish painter Gosta Adrian-Nilsson, known as GAN, fostered the development of modernist art in his native country.

social sciences >> Christina of Sweden

Enigmatic monarch and enthusiastic patron of the arts, Christina of Sweden shocked Europeans by her aversion to marriage, her "mannish" ways, and her love for women, as well as by the abdication of her throne at the age of twenty-seven.

social sciences >> Freud, Sigmund

The founder of psychoanalysis and the discoverer of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud initiated a fundamental transformation in the self-understanding of Western men and women, including especially the role of sexuality.

arts >> Garbo, Greta

Mysterious, aloof, occasionally androgynous, actress Greta Garbo ignited the passions of men and women alike.

social sciences >> Gustav III, King of Sweden

Gustav III, King of Sweden, was an enlightened despot who encouraged a remarkable flowering of art and culture.

social sciences >> Gustav V, King of Sweden

The last Swedish monarch to exert direct power over his nation's government, King Gustav V was a memorable personality, a successful king, and a bisexual.

social sciences >> Hammarskjöld, Dag

Perhaps one of the most enigmatic men of prominence of the twentieth century, Dag Hammarskjöld managed to live an intensely private and secluded life in full view of the public, and the nature and extent of his rumored homosexuality may never be known.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

arts >> Jansson, Eugène Frederik

Eugène Jansson, sometimes described as Sweden's first gay artist, has only recently begun to receive the international attention that his accomplishments merit.

literature >> Lagerlöf, Selma

Although she only hinted at sexual transgression in her novels, Nobel Prize winner and Swedish Academy member Selma Lagerlöf reflected directly her deep affection for women in her letters.


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Borgström, Eva, ed. Makalösa kvinnor: könsöverskridare I myt och verklighet. Stockholm: AlfabetaAnamma, 2002.

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Lundahl, Pia. Intimitetens villkor: kön, sexualitet och berättelser om jaget. Diss. Lund: Universitetet, 2001.

Nilsson, Arne. Såna och riktiga karlar: om manlig homosexualitet i Göteborg decennierna kring andra världskriget. Göteborg: Anamma, 1998.

Norlén, Calle. Bög--så funkar det: handbok för homokillar och deras vänner. Stockholm: Bokförlaget DN, 1999.

Norrhem, Svante. Den hotfulla kärleken: homosexualitet och vanlighetens betydelse. Stockholm: Carlsson 2001.

Parikas, Dodo. Öppenhetens betydelse: homo- och bisexuella i Sverige mellan perversitet och dygdemönster. Stockholm: Carlsson, 1995.

Rosenberg, Tiina. Byxbegär. Göteborg: Anamma, 2000.

_____. Queerfeministisk agenda. Stockholm: Atlas, 2002.

Rydström, Jens. Sinners and Citizens: Bestiality and Homosexuality in Sweden 1980-1950. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Silverstolpe, Fredrik, En homosexuell arbetares memoarer: järnbruksarbetaren Eric Thorsell berättar. Stockholm: Barrikaden, 1981.

_____. Homosexualitet i tredje riket. Eslöv: Symposion, 2000.

_____, Greger Eman, Dodo Parikas, Jens Rydström, and Göran Söderström, eds. Sympatiens hemlighetsfulla makt: Stockholms homosexuella 1860-1960. Stockholm: Stockholmia förlag, 1999.

Tiby, Eva. Hatbrott?: homosexuella kvinnors och mäns berättelser om utsatthet för brott. Diss. Stockholm: University, 1999.

Tikkanen, Ronny. Risky Business?-- en sociosexuell studie av män som har sex med män. Diss. Göteborg: University, 2003.


    Citation Information
    Author: Magnusson, Jan  
    Entry Title: Sweden  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated April 1, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
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