by YAHOO News, January 15, 2002

"OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss has married his homosexual partner in what gay rights activists hailed Tuesday as a breakthrough in the struggle for wider acceptance.

Foss, 52, a long-time parliamentarian in the Conservative Party, confirmed he had formally registered his relationship with Jan Erik Knarbakk, a director of Norwegian media group Schibsted ASA.

``Yes, we entered a partnership at the embassy in Stockholm on January 4,'' Foss told the financial daily Dagens Naeringsliv Tuesday. ``But beyond that it's a private issue.'' Officials confirmed the report.

In 1993, Norway became the second country after Denmark to allow gays and lesbians to formally ``enter partnerships,'' a marriage contract giving them almost the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.

Leading gay politicians in Europe include the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe. But activists and Norwegian officials were unaware of any minister before Foss who had got married while in office.

``It's a great thing -- being from a conservative party is even more sensational,'' said Kurt Krickler, co-chairman of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, Europe. ``It should encourage wider acceptance.''

``We think that this is the first time that a cabinet minister anywhere has entered a partnership,'' said Ragnhild Samuelsberg at the Norwegian Ministry for Family and Children's Affairs.

Foss and Knarbakk, who met in 1980, have long lived together in Oslo's fashionable Frogner district. Opinion polls showed wide support for Foss when he made the relationship public two years ago.

Many Christians and some bishops in Norway's state Lutheran church, which bars homosexuals from becoming priests, still oppose the partnership law. Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik is a priest in the state church.

Under the 1993 law, partners attend a ceremony, for instance at a town hall, similar to a civic heterosexual wedding.

From January 1 this year, Norway relaxed a ban on adoption by lesbian and gay couples. Women or men can now adopt their partner's children from previous relationships.

About 150 Norwegian couples got married under the 1993 law in 2000, compared with 25,400 heterosexual marriages. "