When Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and his girlfriend, Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, publicly announced early this month that they had bought an apartment in central Oslo for $610,000 and would live together as a couple, they were behaving like many other young couples in their liberal, northern European country. In Norway cohabitation—living together without being married—is very popular among young people, and also for many older couples. One in four Norwegian couples living together are not married, and nine out of 10 couples who do get married have already lived together. But after the announcement it became obvious that Prince Haakon—who will become both king and head of the state church, the Lutheran church, on the death of his father—cannot simply do what thousands of other Norwegians do. The decision he has taken with his partner has started a major debate among Norway's 4.4 million citizens. Many religious leaders have expressed regret or even sharp criticism. For most Norwegians, the prince's decision causes no problem, but one opinion poll found that 20 percent of the public thinks that the church should advise the couple to get married. Religious leaders have in fact been advising the prince to do just that, though the advice has been put more strongly in conservative church circles than elsewhere. Several church leaders have expressed regret that the Prince Haakon, who should be a role model for his people, has taken this step. They suggested that, according to biblical teaching, his decision is a sinful one. "The Crown Prince has chosen a way of life that is not supported by the church," said Halvor Nordhaug, head of Menighedsfakultetet, the leading educational center of the (Lutheran) Church of Norway, to which 87 per cent of the population belongs. Nordhaug referred to a decision taken by his church's general synod in 1995 stating that "marriage is God's good arrangement for the life together of men and women." The church declared at that time: "We recommend marriage as the best way of living together in our time. We do this not only because God says that marriage is holy and inviolable, but because we are convinced that marriage is the best way for a man and a woman to have a loving relationship in good times as well as bad."The religious adviser to Norway's royal family, the (Lutheran) Bishop of Oslo, Gunnar Staalsett, has declined to say whether he was consulted before the cohabitation announcement. But Dr Staalsett, who is a former general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, has said that he "expects a future king of Norway to be married to his queen."A few days after the prince's news was made public, Dr Staalsett attended a press conference to publicize a new book of sermons. However most of the questions from journalists related to the prince. "I feel confident," Bishop Staalsett said, "that even in modern times, many of those cohabiting are discovering that this can only be a first step towards a more permanent arrangement to protect each other in a way that expresses faithfulness, love and dignity."The bishop of Oslo added that he had on several occasions and in a number of sermons pointed out that marriage was an institution created by God.Many Lutheran bishops here have made similar comments. But when asked by newspapers whether cohabitation is a sin, most have either declined to answer or have said that it is not a "big sin."Other Christian officials are more blunt. Billy Taranger, general secretary of Norway's Baptist Union, said publicly that cohabitation was a sin. He referred to the Bible in which, he said, "marriage has been the only true way of living together ever since the time of Abraham."Asked the same question, Anfin Skaaheim, general secretary of Indremisjonen, an evangelical branch of the Church of Norway, said: "Yes, it is a sin because it is a violation of the arrangements God has made."Father Ellert Dahl, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Norway, said that his church was "in line with all other major churches on the question of marriage." However, he declined to comment on whether cohabitation was sinful. "You should not pass a verdict without first talking to the people involved."The romance between Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, the mother of a three-year-old boy from a previous relationship, has been widely known in Norway for some time. They are not formally engaged, but most commentators believe the relationship has the approval of the prince's father, King Harald, and that Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby will eventually become queen of Norway.Despite widespread acceptance of the relationship and the new living arrangements, many Norwegians are sorry that the respect and mystique traditionally accorded to their monarchy are beginning to fade. Some commentators have predicted that it will be harder for the Norwegian monarchy to survive if it becomes too "folksy."Copyright © 2000 ENI.

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Read Prince Haakon's " Norway and the United States, an Enduring Relationship," an address given to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in 1999.Pick and Choose from biographies of Norway's Royal Family, including King Harald, Queen Sonja, and Prince Haakon.Visit the Church of Norway's English site.The Church of Norway has been softening many of its policies for years. In July it began ordaining gay clergy, as this Associated Press article relates.Media coverage of Crown Prince Haakon's relationship from both Norway and abroad includes:Letters to the Editor about Crown Prince Haakon's announcementThe Norway Post (Sept. 10, 2000) Weekend feature: Royal cohabitationThe Norway Post (Sept. 9, 2000) Crown Prince Shuns Calls to WedFinancial Times (Sept. 8, 2000) King breaks royal domestic traditionAftenposten (Sept. 7, 2000) King Harald: Happy for Crown Prince HaakonThe Norway Post (Sept. 7, 2000) Bishop criticizes Crown PrinceAftenposten (Sept. 6, 2000) Crown Prince asks for public patienceAftenposten (Sept. 5, 2000) Mette-Marit not keen on being queenAftenposten (Sept. 5, 2000) The Crown Prince says he wants to get marriedThe Norway Post (Sept. 5, 2000) Politicians confident prince will marryAftenposten (Sept. 4, 2000) Crown Prince to live with girlfriendAftenposten (Sept. 4, 2000) Norway Prince, Girlfriend Move in—Associated Press (Sept. 2, 2000) Norway's Royal Prince to Live with Girlfriend—Reuters / CNN (Sept. 2, 2000) Prince Moves in with Lover—News24 (Sept. 2, 2000) Crown Prince Haakon and girl friend move in together | The Norway Post (Sept. 2, 2000) Royal sweetheart tackles media spotlightAftenposten (Aug. 3, 2000) Dagbladet's "kissing" picture under fireAftenposten (July 26, 2000) The Palace is not amused!Aftenposten (July 21, 2000) Royal kiss on paperThe Norway Post (July 21, 2000) Massive support for Crown Prince Haakon's opennessThe Norway Post (May 16, 2000) Political and church support for Crown Prince HaakonThe Norway Post (May 15, 2000) Prince goes public on private lifeAftenposten (May 14, 2000) Prince's affair has Palace blessingAftenposten (May 11, 2000) Crown Prince Haakon: Yes, I have a girl friendThe Norway Post (May 14, 2000) Crown Prince Haakon officially confirms he has a girl friend—NorNewsNet (May 13, 2000) Palace fends off princely scandalAftenposten (May 4, 2000) Haakon Magnus Too Popular, Won't become a happy king—NorNewsNet (Feb. 6, 2000) Crown Prince Haakon's new girl friend has a son—NorNewsNet (Jan. 16, 2000) Norway's Crown Prince with new girlfriendAftenposten (Dec. 30, 1999)