Same sex marriage legislation
The Scottish Government has announced its intention to legislate for same sex marriage by 2015. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that she will work with the UK government to amend equality laws to protect churches from having to officiate at those unions unwillingly.
She indicated that the Government understood the deeply held and religious views both for and against same sex marriage: 'We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships.' Two thirds of those 80,000 people responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation (not referendum) opposed changes allowing same sex marriage. In submitting its response to the consultation, The Scottish Episcopal Church stated that: '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.' A recent Dundee Courier editorial said: 'Faith groups may have legitimate concerns... but the Scottish Government has done its best to square the right to religious freedom with the right of consenting adults to marry who they choose.'
Meanwhile the Scottish Episcopal Church has issued a statement noting the Government’s intention to legislate for same sex marriage and stating that the Church will engage with the consultation process on the draft Bill when it is published and expects to respond through the Faith and Order Board of the General Synod.
The issue for the churches is clear – how involved do we wish to be in these permissive but not mandatory arrangements? I guess there may be debates in forthcoming General Synods of the Scottish Episcopal Church to discuss the proposals, our response to the legislation and any canonical changes to the definition of Christian marriage and the pastoral and liturgical practice we may require. I recall how in the 1980s churches in these islands grappled with the issue of accommodating divorcees in subsequent marriages, reflecting the reality of wider society. A great deal of pastoral good came out of a generous approach, many people finding new acceptance in their relationships within the Church.
Whether the same can be said of same sex marriage remains to be seen. Within Brechin Diocese we hold a range of views about same-sex relationships, civil partnerships and marriage, each held with Christian conviction. As Bishop I equally abhor homophobia and the casual dismissal of traditional values. I hope we can have a generous conversation about the issues both within the life of our Church and in our engagement with public debate. Not least because it is a measure of the integrity of our faith and mission in the 21st century