Scottish Government Consultation on Equal Marriage

I take a break from the quagmire that is FPAS to draw your attention to the political and religious issue of the week.

In early September, the Scottish Government launched their consultation on equal marriage. This is the latest and most hopeful step in a campaign that I’ve been involved in in one way or another for more than three years, with what started out as a small and committed group of people who have been running around university campuses with clipboards and white knots, talking to journalists and politicians and the massed crowds at Pride, and generally being willing to say what is apparently the controversial thing. Although, not that controversial. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010 was published in the summer and revealed that 61% of the Scottish population are in support of equal marriage and that a further 18% don’t care. A majority like that does make me wonder, a bit, why this hasn’t happened already.

And then the Roman Catholic bishops got involved.

In the last few weeks, they have said many things. Cardinal O’Brien and Archbishop Conti in particular have said many things to the press. I am not going to reiterate them, they are easy enough to find given five minutes and access to Google. They are perfectly within their rights to say these things, but, of course, that means that those of us who disagree with them are also perfectly within our rights to express our disagreement. This weekend, The Very Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, has expressed his disagreement with the Roman Catholic bishops and I encourage you to take a look at the sermon he gave on Sunday.

It is important when these things are said that we do express our disagreement. I have no interest in letting the Roman Catholic bishops believe that they speak for all Christians, because they do not.

Last night, I sat with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Group at St Mary’s Cathedral and we composed a group response to the proposals and that has now been submitted to the Scottish Government. We are Christians. We are LGBT and LGBT allies. We are in favour of religious freedom for everyone — for any religious body that does not wish to solemnise same-sex marriages and is already protected from doing so under existing law, and for any religious body that would wish to solemnise such marriages and is prohibited from doing so under existing law. We believe that our views on this are as valid and have as much right to be heard as those of the Catholic hierarchy.

I encourage anyone who is affected by these consultations, anyone who knows anyone who will be affected by these consultations, and anyone who cares in any way at all to look through the proposals on the Scottish Government website and to submit their own individual response via the online response form.


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  2. I hope that you were embarrassed and outraged by the parable told in this morning’s gospel. If you were not – go and read it again until you are. It may well have made sense to the people amongst whom it was first told but we must be frank, we must be bold and we must be clear – it has very little in it to edify us now. (Emphasis mine)

    The words of Jesus to cling onto are the words which nourish and the words which heal. …

    As the apostle said, “So beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

    And in the name of God, forget all the rest.

    A very strongly-worded homily I can understand your reverend’s points on the gay marriage thing – it really doesn’t behoove bishops and the like to get involved with what is a strictly political/tax issue (at least in my neck of the woods, this is a clear church/state separation issue, and sure, ministers can have an opinion, but they haven’t got the right to influence government), but it sounds as if he’s saying that if Jesus’ words are too mean or confusing, well, blow them off and go with something that’s nice like angels and butterflies and loving pretty children. You know, the easy stuff.

    I was always taught that the cultural significance of that particular parable was crucial – in Middle Eastern life, an engagement was announced a year in advance, and a wedding lasted at minimum for a week with all amenities being offered. It was An Event, so on top of the cavalier attitude of those who said, “Meh, not interested in your joy, your dancing, your feast, or your family,” the person who came but stood out in his slacker outfit when everyone else was in tux and tails was being blatantly insulting… because, the King had provided the wedding attendees their clothes! This is typical of weddings of the time (and is reflected in Kings 10:22), and the insult which was offered was blatant – this dude didn’t really want to be at the wedding, and made a point of showing up to say, “I’m not a part of this.” And what point is there in that? If you want not to be a part, by all means go; we’ll show you the door.

    I think a significant point that the reverend made is that all are welcome in God’s house. But people who come in and bring crap of whatever kind, track in dirt and try to bring it down need to go. It’s difficult to hear, maybe, but it’s a fact. All are welcome who want to be there, but those whose agenda precludes them actually being there for a reason other than to tear down should not be allowed to do that.

    Perhaps in this case, the guys who need to be shown the door are Catholic bishops; God certainly didn’t say they were gay.

    (Apologies that the reply is longer than the post, and further apologies for the exegetical nature of the response; I have a minor degree in religion from undergrad days, and tend to wave it about at the worst times.)

  3. Oops. SECOND Kings. Sorry. (The royalty, it doth proliferate.)
    And I took my courage in paw and wrote that on your reverend’s site, so he can be equally confounded by my wisdom, ha-hah.

    He’s brave to blog his sermons; he gives people a place to argue with him. Must respect that (or have his head checked).

  4. I don’t presume to speak for Kelvin, but I will say that in four and a bit years at St Mary’s I’ve never known him to gloss over the difficult or challenging bits of the Gospels and I don’t think that that was what he was going for. I am at best an amateur theologian and a woolly liberal sort of Christian besides, but I think that there are parts of the Gospels (and the whole Bible) that we can say only made sense in the cultural context of the day and are entirely irrelevant to us now, and that there are some parts of the Gospels that not only can’t be taken literally now but perhaps were never meant to be taken literally at all and that, in my opinion, the parables, including this one, certainly fall into that category. There has already been a lot of discussion over on Kelvin’s blog about how this parable might be interpreted, and Rosemary offers an interpretation that fits very closely with yours.

    The issue of to what extent religious celebrants ought to involve themselves in marriage is less clear here than I imagine it is, or should be, in the US. We have no legal or constitutional separation of Church and State in the UK. The marriage issue is an issue because religious celebrants in the major Judeo Christian religions are licensed to act as civil registrars i.e., the weddings of the couples that they are marrying will be recognised in the eyes of the law as well as the eyes of the Church. As it currently stands, this is not the case for everyone. There is a legal prohibition against registering a civil ceremony in a religious building or by a religious celebrant, which means that opposite-sex couples have a choice between a civil marriage and a religious marriage and that same-sex couples, even if their relevant religious body was willing to licence their union, have no choice at all. The major question that is being put forward by the Scottish Government is whether there ought to be religious civil partnerships or whether we ought to simply open marriage up to everyone. I believe that marriage should be available to everyone and that it should be called marriage: separate but equal isn’t equal, and words are never just words.

  5. Thanks, Rosemary.

    Do you remember the very first time we met, three years ago — there was a petition and a box of white knots and the upper deck of an open-top bus in the Edinburgh rain? The progress has been slow, maybe, but it seems that we are being listened to by someone, somewhere.

  6. I remember it so well Beth – and now how we would talk and talk ,on that long wet walk! I get very frustrated because I think that by now people in general are more than ready for the last changes to be made. I cannot understand the last few bigots who cling to irrational ideas. It is so so plain to me –

    Sometimes I feel ashamed because so many say they have changed their ideas on this – I never have – it has always seemed to me self evident that any particular person might be attracted to their own sex, and that this would be right and natural. I always knew lesbian and gay people – I cannot remember a time when I did not although of course as a very young child I was not much interested in which adults were attracted to which other adults. It just seemed natural and normal and it still does. There was no grand intellectual journey to be made. It does not make me at all sympathetic to idiot Bishops.

  7. Pingback: Same-sex marriage and the state | What's in Kelvin's Head

  8. I notice your current thinking regards christian/church responses to your longed for changes in defintion/law on marriage – “We are in favour of religious freedom for everyone — for any religious body that does not wish to solemnise same-sex marriages and is already protected from doing so under existing law, and for any religious body that would wish to solemnise such marriages and is prohibited from doing so under existing law”.
    If your thoughts are accepted, and in 5 years time a ‘same sex couple’ approach a priest of the RC Church say, and on being refused, take their case to court on the grounds of discriminarion – don’t you think the homosexual lobby will then be pushing for further changes in the law?
    Permissive legislation, by its very nature is short lived; compulsory legislation follows in its train as sure as night follows day [almost!].
    Can you see a way then of maintaining your position – “We are in favour of religious freedom for everyone” ?
    The end result will be that ‘marriage’ will become a legal/civil ceremony in UK, as presently in France for example, and marriage licences will not be granted to ministers of religion.
    A long way from Paul’s description of God’s provision of marriage for His creation in Ephesians 5 !! – hence the current concern within the Church of Jesus Christ.
    So I too have already followed your encouragements in your last para – every blessing on you.

  9. I, and I believe the other people represented by that response, would support the RC Church’s religious freedom in that situation. I cannot comment on what the so-called homosexual lobby would or would not do in such a case — despite the popular views of the heterosexual lobby, there is no gay hive mind.

    I notice that you say that permissive legislation is short-lived. It’s strange, then, that permissive legislation has been enshrined in marriage law for decades. No religious body or celebrant is required to marry anyone who they do not wish to marry, nor are they required to give a reason for their refusal. It is a legal protection for religious freedom and it is upheld by the courts.

    Personally, I do not see marriage becoming devolved from religion to the extent that it has done in France but I also don’t have a crystal ball. However, I will point out that the UK is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith and that at the present time not all ministers of religion are granted marriage licences in this country.

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