Saturday, 10 December 2011

Religious responses to the Scottish government consultation on same-sex marriage

Updated Sunday evening

The Scottish Government just concluded a consultation on Registration of Civil partnerships same sex marriage and related issues. The terms of the consultation can be found here.

This consultation paper seeks views on the possibility of allowing religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and the possible introduction of same sex marriage.

This Government believes in religious tolerance and the freedom to worship. We also believe in equality and diversity.

There are a variety of views on religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and on same sex marriage. We hope that everyone will use this consultation to express their views and opinions. However, as the debate unfolds, we also hope that everyone will treat those with different or opposing views with courtesy and respect, in accordance with the very highest standards of democratic discourse.

The Scottish Government is choosing to make its initial views clear at the outset of this consultation. We tend towards the view that religious ceremonies for civil partnerships should no longer be prohibited and that same sex marriage should be introduced so that same sex couples have the option of getting married if that is how they wish to demonstrate their commitment to each other. We also believe that no religious body or its celebrants should be required to carry out same sex marriages or civil partnership ceremonies…

The Scottish Episcopal Church made its response, and published it here (PDF) together with this press release.

…In submitting its response, the Scottish Episcopal Church has stated that its General Synod expresses the mind of the Church through its Canons. The Canon on Marriage currently states that marriage is a ‘physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and as a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God’.

The Rt Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Convener of the Faith & Order Board’s working group on the consultation explains “The Canon on Marriage is clear in its wording and that has given the working group set up by the Faith and Order Board a common basis on which to discuss the issues raised in the Government’s Paper. The Church’s current position is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and this clarity allows us the space to listen to the many differing views held by the members of our Church.

“The general issues raised by the consultation document are matters which are already the subject of ongoing discussion within both the Anglican and Porvoo Communions, and in which the Scottish Episcopal Church plays its part. Our written submission is offered in the knowledge of these ongoing discussions, it is placed within the Government’s time frame and has therefore sought to indicate our canonical position without pre-empting any debate we as a Church are or could be engaged in…

The Church of Scotland responded with No to same sex marriage: Consultation response confirms traditional position and the Convener of the Legal Questions Committee also issued this statement.

The Roman Catholic Bishops in Scotland have expressed strong opposition to the proposals, but their official response to the government does not appear to have been published yet by the Scottish Catholic Media Office.

Update The SCMO has kindly supplied me with a copy, which is available here (PDF).

Although the RC bishops objected very strongly to anyone from outside Scotland being allowed to respond to the consultation, numerous lobby groups invited people outside Scotland to respond, including Anglican Mainstream which sent emails to English General Synod members and others, urging them to participate.

A political party entitled the Scottish Christian Party responded that the consultation was “not fit for purpose, and concluded saying:

“It will be a mark of perpetual disgrace, and a blot on Scottish history, that no sooner has the Scottish National Party formed a majority Government than one of its first measures is a moral and social revolution of such a nature that it will destroy the time-honoured understanding of marriage, undermine the family, threaten the well-being of children, disrupt Scottish education, compromise healthy living, satisfy the communistic agenda of cultural Marxism, introduce anomalies into Scottish Law which will leave a legacy of legislative confusion, and be a stick with which the aggressive homosexual lobby can continue to beat Christians.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 6:22pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Scottish Episcopal Church | equality legislation

The Episcopal Church's breathtaking assertion that there is no canonical difference between religious and civil marriage, and thus no basis for changing the civil law, is baffling. Surely the obvious difference would be that the general Scots populace is bound by the law and not by Episcopal canons. It is not clear to me why the Episcopal Church would wish extrapolate its own discipline into the law of the land. On the contrary, if they are so concerned about the integrity of canon law and independence from secular interference you'd expect them to come to the aid of Quakers, Unitarians, and Swedenborgians seeking the same.

Furthermore, the document is missionally poor, as it could give the impression that the Piskies (actually one of the saner provinces on the subject) are more censorious than they are, a deadly mistake if the Church is going to convince anyone under 30 that it can be a force for moral good. On the other hand, the recognition that the conversation is one in progress, and the nod to the "Communions [plural] to which we belong" (in light of the recent Porvoo consultation) are encouraging.

Posted by: Geoff on Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 4:31pm GMT

Anybody got any smelling salts for the {hey, *I* get to use scare-quotes! ;-p} "Scottish Christian Party"?

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 7:57pm GMT

I suppose that, given the facts of the situation, the Scottish Episcopal Church could only give and opinion based on current legislation within SEC.

It would probably depend on who, actually, was supplying the response, as to whether any sort of encouragement was given to the Scottish Government by the Episcopal Church, that might indicate SEC's willingness to debate the matter within its Church Synods.

In other words, until the Churches get their act together on this important subject, legislation may be slow in affirming a willingness to accept full human rights for LGBT persons.

It was surely not unexpected that the more conservative Churches would respond negatively.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 8:21pm GMT

The first attack on marriage by the Scottish Parliament was the acceptance of the so-called Reformation in 1560 and the allowance of divorce and re-mmarriage.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 8:51pm GMT

It's important to emphasise that the Scottish Episcopal Church's Faith and Order Board is only empowered (as the response points out) to state the SEC's present position on marriage as regulated by Canon 31 - which (if you enjoy that kind of thing) can be downloaded from The Board could only respond to the government consultation paper in that context.

Like many denominations, we are currently debating both internally and with our ecumenical partners whether, and if so how, affirmation of same-sex relationships might be subsumed into our understanding of marriage. Any change in that understanding can only be effected by the long and wearying process of amending Canon 31 and,so far as I can tell, we're nowhere near that point yet. This is going to be a long haul.

It would be helpful, Geoff, if you could reference the passage with the "breathtaking assertion". I can't spot it. In Scotland, no marriage of any description can legally take place without a certificate from the civil Registrar, and Canon 31.2 explicitly says, "No cleric of this Church shall solemnise matrimony except in accordance with the civil law of Scotland......." So, theology notwithstanding, there is no difference, in both civil and canon law, between marriage in Church and marriage elsewhere. Are you perhaps misinterpreting that point?

Posted by: David Bayne on Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 9:32pm GMT

I think it is worth pointing out that many individual Christians have made their responses to the consultation, and many, like mine, will be positive to equal marriage. Also that the Vestry of my own congregation,St Mary's Cathedral Glasgow, made this response.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Sunday, 11 December 2011 at 12:10am GMT

"So, theology notwithstanding, there is no difference, in both civil and canon law, between marriage in Church and marriage elsewhere. Are you perhaps misinterpreting that point?"

I had hoped I was, but from your explanation it appears not. "Theology notwithstanding..." is never a good sign of things to follow. The legal provisions you cite would seem to indicate that couples who choose to marry are coercively obligated to get the state involved. While we often speak of "legalizing same-sex marriage," in most jurisdictions it's a shorthand for legal recognition. For example, the United Church of Canada was joining same-gender couples in matrimony well before the judicial rulings that culminated in the Civil Marriage Act made those unions legally-binding "marriages for civil purposes." Those marriages were not however "illegal" in the sense that the ministers were committing a crime, but merely (if you will) a-legal, of no effect in the eyes of the Crown. Are you saying that in Scotland (the historic heartland of anti-Erastianism and marital libertarianism), a congregation which celebrates its religious marriage rites with no desire for legal recognition is breaking the law? That would certainly be a much bigger issue than the gender question for traditions like the Anabaptists who have historically at best an ambivalent relationship with the state.

Posted by: Geoff on Sunday, 11 December 2011 at 12:18am GMT

It is gratifying to see so much ecumenical unity on a contentious subject. I do not see how the different bodies could have decided otherwise. I hope the Scottish parliament will take notice and act accordingly.

Posted by: John Bowles on Sunday, 11 December 2011 at 10:31am GMT

Where on earth is Geoff coming from? Here in England the state reckons marriage according to the rites of the C of E to be, well, marriage; and the C of E reckons marriage before a registrar to be...marriage. A marriage may be solemnised in various ways, civil or religious according to choice; but the marriage is a marriage is a marriage. Other denominations may pretend that they own "real marriage"; let's not imitate them, but let's go on dealing with the real world--please.

Posted by: american piskie on Sunday, 11 December 2011 at 3:25pm GMT

I have a lot of sympathy with the denominations cited (well a bit of sympathy anyway). The Church of Scotland is in the midde of its own prolonged process around ordination etc and cannot have been expected to have, via its General Assemby, arrived at a helpful position (it may or may not do so in a few years).

Likewise the Episcopal Church has been too tangled up in the Anglican Communion imbroglio to be abe to say anything different.

More gobaly the problem is that Christian churches generally have neglected properly giving consideration to the civil rights of LGBT people so they are caught off guard by what's happening in the world and has been for quite some time.

Mainly TEC and Lutheran churches (Sweden, Denmark) have done so and look what happened there....

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Sunday, 11 December 2011 at 8:40pm GMT

"The first attack on marriage by the Scottish Parliament was the acceptance of the so-called Reformation in 1560 and the allowance of divorce and re-marriage."

Posted by: robert ian williams on Saturday

And perhaps the second 'attack on Marriage' Robert, in a wider context, was by the Roman Catholic Church, when it decided to base its granting of 'annulment of Marriage' on the capacity of the couple to PAY for it. - another misapprehension, perhaps?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 11 December 2011 at 10:28pm GMT

"Here in England the state reckons marriage according to the rites of the C of E to be, well, marriage."

And prosecutes marriages that aren't? That's the sticking point here. Canada certainly doesn't, and surely you're not going to tell me it's different south of the border. As for England, I'll take your word for it.

My point was that if the Scottish Episcopal Church is *unable* to revise its marriage canon unless the civil authority allows it, then it has far bigger problems than same-gender marriage. Regardless of what they think of amending the canon to allow the latter, they at least need to amend it to give themselves authority to set their own standards.

Posted by: Geoff on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 12:35am GMT

Ron.. you may not like Catholicism, but reconsider your comment. The Church does not charge for annulments.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 6:33am GMT

This is the gist of what Anglican Mainstream emailed to General synod members:

"If Scotland approves gay ‘marriage’, we believe the next bullet will have England’s (and Wales’ and NI’s) names on it. The pro-gay Scottish government apparently does not like the results of its consultation thus far and so has broadened the field to include the views of anyone, anywhere on the globe. You can be certain LGBT activists are doing all they can; how can we do less?

Please be praying! If we lose, this will likely be our Poland, 1 September 1939."

Irrespective of my owm views on twe actual issue of same-sex partnerships etc., I find this email offensive, employing as it does violent terminology and again casting LGBT people as 'Nazis' by implication.

The email was sent out by Lisa Nolland. Since she is American by birth I am tempted to ask if this is an attempt to make up for being late for the last two world wars. But that comment would be gratuitously offensive to Americans so I won't make it....

Posted by: Charles Read on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 11:33am GMT

Well the so called 'Scottish Christian Party' is really rattled. I had no idea that gay marriage was so dangerous to the God fearing. But in any case I thought that Christ, or was it Paul?, predicted that the God fearing were going to be persecuted so giving the 'agressive homosexual lobby' a big stick ought to be welcomed. The party members are obvioulsy destined first for the Kingdom of heaven.

BTW I wonder which of three words is strictly accurate? Scottish or just a few Scots? Christian? Well not all Christains obvioulsy, not even most and how do you define Christian anyway?. Party? What makes a political party. Are they registered as such, do they have any MSP or MPs or councillors. How many votes did they get last time? Sounds a bit dubious to me.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 1:47pm GMT

The results by Region are:
Highlands and Islands: 3541 = 2%
down 1.4% but still at the top of the minor Parties, above the BNP and UKIP.
Central: 3173 = 1.4%
down 0.7%; but higher than most other minor Parties, including the BNP and UKIP.
West of Scotland: 2468 = 0.9%
down 0.5%; but higher than the BNP and UKIP.
North East Scotland: 2159 = 0.8%
up 0.1%; where we increased our vote and beat the BNP.
Glasgow: 1501 = 0.7%
down 0.7%; where we beat UKIP but Patrick Harvie got in with an increased vote.
South of Scotland: 1924 = 0.7%
down 0.1%; where we have a new team who engaged enthusiastically at very short notice.
Lothian: 914 = 0.3%
down 0.4%; where we beat the CPA who got 553, in spite of our not campaigning.
Mid Scotland and Fife 786 = 0.3%
down 0.3%; where we beat the CPA who got 638, in spite of our not campaigning.

Posted by: Kennedy Fraser on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 7:08pm GMT

Personally, I'm all in favour of gay marriage. Where are the theological objections?

Posted by: john on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 7:37pm GMT

“…you may not like Catholicism, but reconsider your comment. The Church does not charge for annulments.”-- Robert Ian Williams

Yeah right, Robert! Just like papists have never charged for indulgences, eh?

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Posted by: Kurt on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 7:48pm GMT

The sale of indulgences was condemned and prohibited at the Council of Trent. As for the Christian party in Wales, thay believe the Welsh flag is Satanic as it has a dragon on it..enough said!

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Monday, 12 December 2011 at 10:45pm GMT

"The sale of indulgences was condemned and prohibited at the Council of Trent" - R.I.W. -

Yes, Robert. But not until Martin Luther had left the Roman Catholic church - partly because of the Sale of Indulgences! This was then seen, by the Pope, as his Achilles heel.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 at 11:19pm GMT

I am very glad that correspondents here of all shades of opinion are agreed that there are no worthwhile theological arguments against gay marriage.

Posted by: john on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 at 9:06pm GMT

Mr Williams, you are very, very naive. Operating an administrative apparatus such as is housed in the Vatican is an expensive proposition; and the Vatican has to pay bills just like everyone else. If you think it possible to embark upon the complicated proceedings involved in obtaining an annulment without being expected to bear administrative costs (particularly in such times as we live in) then you also, no doubt, believe in the tooth fairy. it isn't how the world works, sir.

You may be right, however, in that the document certifying your annulment is, itself, given free of charge. But I'd like to see you get to that point without shelling out a lot of cash--beginning the moment you walk into your diocesan chancellor's office.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Thursday, 15 December 2011 at 2:27am GMT

"I am very glad that correspondents here of all shades of opinion are agreed that there are no worthwhile theological arguments against gay marriage."

But that only takes us so far.
We know that even the Vatican has accepted that there are no worthwhile theological arguments against women priests, yet that doesn't mean they'll allow them any time soon.

Far too often, "theology" is just a conventient way of saying "I personally don't want it so I'm hiding behind something that gives it the impression of being intellectual rather than mere prejudice and you'll never be able to shove me off that high horse".

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 15 December 2011 at 9:51am GMT


I was being facetious - but also throwing down a challenge. But of course I do not agree with you that failure to accept liberal positions is prejudice, mere or otherwise. We've been here a million times before. One can be very liberal and still strive to uphold liberal pluralism, of course provided that the positions one is accommodating are not vicious.

Happy Advent.

Posted by: john on Thursday, 15 December 2011 at 9:33pm GMT

In the women priest debate, I just about understood your position and supported it for a long time. That was because I genuinely believed that no woman is actually harmed by some people in some churches shutting themselves off from them. Although that is, of course, not true for the Roman Catholic church where there is no space where women are being treated as equals.

In this conversation, though, that position is not acceptable.
Supporting gay right hurts not a single straight person but greatly enhances the emotional wellbeing of gay people.

There is absolutely no way that any liberal person can tolerate the continued emotional damage done to gay people by this church for the sake of tolerance and pluralism.

Tolerance always has to stop somewhere. If it doesn't stop at the point where real people are harmed, we've crossed the line and joined the oppressors.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 7:45am GMT

The Catholic Church has never charged for indulgences..but individuals may have abused their office. Acts of charity were also misinterpreted as payment.

There is a big difference between administrative charges which are nominal and the crude stereotype you are presenting.there is no st charge whatsover in my diocese.

The Catholic Church will.not be dictated to about gay marriage.In this the Catholic Church will be united with the Orthodox communion and conservative Protestants. The theology represented here hardly represents the mainstream. However I do not doubt your sincerity, like the two Mormon missionaries on my doorstep last Saturday.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 8:27am GMT

And what about the (relative) sincerity of the Borgia Popes, Robert? And of the two Papacies: at Avignon and Rome? Sincerity can be relative - especially when debating from one's own isolated point of view!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 11:58pm GMT

All ablely answered by Catholic apologists and historians.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Saturday, 17 December 2011 at 8:44pm GMT


I do not think you are making sense.

I am 100% committed to 'gay rights'. These rights include civil partnerships, now available. I am 100% committed to such partnerships being open to church blessings. Such blessings happen. I personally know some C of E priests who do them. I am also 100% committed to 'gay marriage', that is, full legal marriage. I think this will happen within the UK, within a foreseeable time frame. I am 100% committed to such marriage being celebrated in C of E churches. I am, however, also committed to 'opt-outs' for C of E clergy who cannot, in good conscience (as opposed to instinctive bigotry) accept these things. What is wrong with this? I am impeccably, indeed extremely, liberal: I remain implacably opposed to liberal fascism.

Posted by: John on Monday, 19 December 2011 at 8:46pm GMT

John said, "I am, however, also committed to 'opt-outs' for C of E clergy who cannot, in good conscience (as opposed to instinctive bigotry) accept these things. What is wrong with this?"

I guess it depends what grounds, if any, for refusing someone a sacrament(al) could be considered "conscientious" as opposed to bigoted. It seems to me that every bigot is quick to plead his conscience. Perhaps that's my issue with liberalism (and with the assumption that favouring marriage equality is a necessarily "liberal" position): it's okay to do the right thing, and it's okay not too, because we're Anglicans and we wouldn't want to tell anyone what to *do*!

Would it be "liberal fascism" not to permit clergy to pick and choose whether their "conscience" requires them to differentiate between couples on the basis of race, or some other otherwise-prohibited ground of discrimination? If not, is it just sexual orientation, or what other "exemptions" does the established church need from the statute law?

Posted by: Geoff on Tuesday, 20 December 2011 at 10:23pm GMT

"I remain implacably opposed to liberal fascism"

Thus committed to moderate fascism, which says you're a fascist if you expect some degree of conformity in a group. In a perfect world, I grant you, it would be ideal to let everyone do their own thing, and give the best complexion to all viewpoints.

It's not a perfect world. Priests are - like it or not - under authority of a church. They may leave if they feel morally compromised and seek employment in another church. Jesus expected committment in following. If you can't commit, that ain't Church, for you. That's the way it is in the real world now - when Jesus comes, who knows?

In the meantime, your proposal reminds me too much of Cinderella in *Into the Woods*:

Better run along home
And avoid the collision.
Even though they don't care,
You'll be better of there
Where there's nothing to choose,
So there's nothing to lose.
So you pry up your shoes.
Then from out of the blue,
And without any guide,
You know what your decision is,
Which is not to decide.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 at 7:14am GMT

'It seems to me that every bigot is quick to plead his conscience.'

No doubt that's true, but I am excluding that possibility in my argument, which concerns, precisely, those acting in good conscience. I think there are such people. I think I know some.

Of course, in general I accept that 'discrimination' is wrong. But in this case civic rights are not the only factor. There's Christian tradition, the Bible, etc. For some people it will never be possible to accept that the marriage of members of the same sex is legitimate. You will never persuade them. There are too many variables here. Theology is not an exact science. So I think it's pointless to try to coerce them in a church context.

Happy Christmas.

Posted by: john on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 at 8:53am GMT


Your comment leaves reality behind. 'The authority of the Church of England' does not actually allow same-sex blessings. If it's discipline you want, the liberal positions I argue for (and many priests implement) are excluded. What we're talking about here is an ideal universe where same-sex unions/marriages are accorded equal status. To demand absolute compliance with this ideal under the rubric of the 'discipline of the church' is bizarre in the extreme.

Time for a reality check. Time in the interim for a bit of empathy for traditionalist Christians who don't share your views (or mine) and who aren't per se bigots. There are lots of them. They can't just be ignored.

Posted by: john on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 at 9:09pm GMT

"Time in the interim for a bit of empathy for traditionalist Christians who don't share your views (or mine) and who aren't per se bigots."

We're long past the interim, m'dear. "Traditionalist" Christians have been given ample opportunity to reflect on the damage they do. Not that they should need their arms twisted to be in favour of people getting married if they're the consistent, un-bigoted "traditionalists" you claim. If this were a debate, with theological arguments being presented on two "sides," instead of one group of people begging for a seat at the table and another nitpicking holes without offering an alternative, I might be better disposed.

Posted by: Geoff on Thursday, 22 December 2011 at 1:27am GMT
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