Diocesan Synods and Religious Conscience

At the Diocesan Synod of Glasgow and Galloway on Saturday, the following motion was passed by a 67% majority of voting members:

In light of the recent coming into force of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, this Synod agrees that Canon Law should be revised to ensure that no member of the clergy should be expected to act against their conscience with a view to same sex marriage and proposes a motion to this effect to the General Synod of 2015.”

A similar motion had been passed earlier in the day by the Diocese of Edinburgh at their Synod.

I proposed the motion in Glasgow and Galloway on behalf of the Glasgow North East Region, who had conceived and approved it. The motion was seconded by Kennedy Fraser, who is also a member of the Glasgow North East Regional Council.

This is what I said at Diocesan Synod.

It is my joy and privilege to speak to you today on behalf of North East Regional Council, to propose the motion which you have before you from the Glasgow North East Region.

I would like to speak very briefly now about where the Church is at present on this issue and what we think is the beginning of a possible way forward.

As you arrived today, you will have been given a copy of the House of Bishops guidelines concerning marriage. These were issued by the House of Bishops in December to all clergy and lay readers in the province, and they represent the official position of the Church on the matter of marriage between same sex couples – legally and pastorally.

When we spoke about the issue of same-sex marriage at this Synod last year, we did it with a particular view of the world and a particular understanding of what we expected to happen next.

The world has changed.

This is a country where marriage equality is now the law of the land, and where it is possible for any two people who love each other to be married regardless of their gender. I was present at the first marriage to take place between a couple of the same sex, as the bells in Glasgow rang out for a new year, and a new world, and a better world. I was very proud to be there. It is difficult perhaps to understand how much that moment meant, if you didn’t do your growing up in a world that told you you wouldn’t ever be good enough to get married and to profess your love before your family and friends and community.

And in this community, that love is still not considered good enough to proclaim before God and I am hurt by that.

However, this is now a Diocese where we have sat down and talked about these issues together at the Cascade Conversations which took place last year. In the discussion which led to the motion that you see before you, the clergy and lay representatives to the Glasgow North East Region had a long conversation about the Cascade process. There was a diversity of opinion in that room as there will be in this room, but we were agreed on two things:

First, a recognition of the valuable conversations that took place in Cascade and that for many people the process has been genuinely helpful.

Second, the urgent sense that the substance of those conversations must be taken forward, that they must inform action and decision, and that this must happen with urgency.

Bishop Gregor’s point [made in his Charge to Synod] about the hypothetical proposals which may come on this matter from the Faith and Order Board to General Synod is well made, but I think it is important to remember that we as a Synod are also the Body of Christ of this Church and that it is just as important for us to ensure that we tell General Synod of our hopes, our fears, our dreams, and our aspirations.

It seems to me that that urgency has become more pronounced in the last few months.

The law has changed, and as a result there are clergy in this Church who now find themselves in a position where they are legally unable to marry some couples. They are struggling with the question of how to make an appropriate pastoral response to couples who are able to marry and who wish to do that in the presence of God. They are expected to act against their conscience.

And the position of the Church has changed, too.

There are clergy and charges who for the last decade have been able to offer blessings to same-sex couples, and who suddenly find that there are unprecedented restrictions placed on this practice.

There are clergy and lay readers who last year were planning their own weddings, and who now find that the Church will not allow them to marry – to be clear, will not allow them to marry even in a registry office.

And there are people going through discernment for ordination and for lay readership who have been told that they must choose between their vocation and marrying the person who they love.

These people are also being expected to act against their conscience, and to compromise the honour and integrity with which they conduct their private lives.

These are things that I think make us a less loving and a less welcoming Church.

They are also things that stand against the long held tradition of the Church that the solemnisation of any marriage is a matter of religious conscience. This is something that we wish to see rectified, to enable those who wish to solemnise marriages of any kind to be able to do so, to recognise the views of those who do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, and to allow all who work for and within the Church to conduct their personal lives with integrity.

I commend to Synod the motion and with the permission of the Chair, I am happy to take questions and comments.

A lot of you will already have read the Bishops’ Guidelines which I alluded to at the beginning of the proposal. They were provided to members of Synod when they arrived. I was also asked by the Bishop to provide a short paper explaining the purpose behind the motion, and that was also given to members of Synod. They are available here as PDFs, for context and completeness.

House of Bishops’ Guidelines Concerning Same-Sex Marriage

Explanatory Notes on Motion to Diocesan Synod



  1. 55% (15% abstentions) and some bitter legalism in Edinburgh, I’m afraid. Does not bode well for General Synod.

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