Reflecting on the Cascade Conversations in Glasgow & Galloway

Over the last six months since General Synod, the dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church have been engaging in “Cascade Conversations” . You may remember from what I’ve previously said that this is the process which some senior members of the Church decided we ought to use to discuss same-sex relationships [sic] in the Church.

The conversations in my diocese, which is Glasgow and Galloway, concluded this weekend with an event in Galloway. There had been previous events in Glasgow and in Ayrshire. I have attended all three of them and have engaged with the process as best I was able.

The process has followed on from the conference held in Pitlochry shortly after Easter and the presentation which took place at General Synod in June. This “cascading” process has involved series of conversations, which have begun to be arranged and take place in the various dioceses of the Church. The intent was for the conversations across the Province will have broadly the same format as the conversations that were held in Pitlochry, beginning with reflections from invited speakers and then breaking into small groups for further conversation and reflection. The further intent, so we have been told, was for those conversations to “cascade” further into churches and communities. It was thought that the result would be a whole Church conversation.

I have chosen not to speak publicly about my experience of Cascade until the events in my diocese had ended, because I did not wish to prejudice the process. I am going to write publicly about them now.

I know that some of you who were there and others who have heard reports will know that there was a social media embargo. For the first two events, that embargo was only in place for the time we were meeting, and each participant was given guidelines which stated specifically that we were entitled to speak freely about process including on social media. At the third event, we were specifically asked not to discuss the event on social media. I think that is an unhelpful and dangerous embargo and although I’ve respected the embargo while physically in the conversations, I am deliberately disregarding it now.

You may also know that there was a rule of strict confidentiality, specifically that anything said in the small groups and in the room was to remain entirely confidential to the groups and to the room respectively. I am not going to break that rule of confidentiality at this stage. It has been stated on multiple occasions by the House of Bishops and by the Design Group and it was reiterated at the events themselves by the facilitator that the purpose of these rules was to ensure that the process was a safe space.

I have been openly and unashamedly critical of the process since it was foisted upon (not chosen by, not agreed to) a vocally dubious General Synod in 2013. I have criticised it in social media, I have criticised it to my Bishop and to the Primus, and, with considerable support from those both inside and outside of the Synodical processes, I openly dissented against it at this year’s General Synod. I had my doubts from the conception of the Design Group, which arranged the process beginning with Pitlochry. After hearing a little about it at General Synod 2014, I wept tears of anger for myself and shame for my Church as many of my worst fears seemed to be confirmed.

In the end, I did not engage with this process because I think it is the best or the most appropriate process to handle this bit of Church debate, but because it was the process I had been left with and my option was to engage with it or to not be involved at all. In September, at the first Cascade Conversation in my diocese, I was an invited speaker, and I made the terms on which I had eventually engaged very clear to the participants.

But I do confess that despite all of this I did not go to the first event looking to be offended by it. I had heard good things about the event in Pitlochry, and it was clear to me that some participants had found it extremely valuable – some of them people whom I respect and like a great deal. It is not actually in my interests to torpedo what is presently the only mechanism we in the Church have for discussing a subject that matters a great deal to many of us, and I wondered if perhaps by engaging in it I might at least start to see some of the good things that others so obviously had.

It is disappointing that I come away with a sense of having not seen those good things.

I give credit where due to those particular members of the planning committee in Glasgow and Galloway who, having been present for the horrific situation that unfolded at General Synod when the Cascade Conversations were discussed ,worked hard to make this a more positive experience than that. I acknowledge that they were able to do that only within the Provincial framework that they had been given. I acknowledge that some people did indeed have positive experiences at these Diocesan events and say that they have learned valuable things, and I think that that is good and I have no wish to take that positivity away from them.

However, I think it is important that the voices of those who have had negative experiences are not silenced. My experience of this process is that the provincial Design Group and the House of Bishops do not wish to hear from those of us whose experience of this process is that it has been dreadful.

The pitch at the beginning of each event that I have been to has been that there are no outcomes to the day, that there are no decisions being made, that nobody is to take a position, that nobody is to challenge anyone or ask anyone any probing questions. The whole point of the day is simply to listen. The day takes place on holy ground, we were reminded constantly, a refrain that was also uttered in the General Synod presentation about the Pitlochry meeting, and that, while perhaps done with the best of intentions, came across to me as grossly manipulative.

The pitch has also acknowledged equal marriage legislation, but the process has never been said to be about equal marriage – we are, so far as I know and reflected in all of the conversations I have participated in, still having a conversation about issues around same-sex relationships, which, with no definition, cannot be and has not been a cohesive conversation.

My main trouble all along with a broadly defined listening process is its existence as the only process. If it were happening alongside a Synodical process, or in the context of (defined) equal marriage legislation and the (defined) processes of the Church, or even with a sense of general timeline and an idea of what might happen next, I would probably think that a listening process in which the whole Church can participate was a good idea. But absent those things, what results is a roomful of people who aren’t really certain what they’re meant to be talking about. It leads to people sitting around in their small groups not knowing where to begin, or leads to entirely separate conversations about different things with no common thread and not really getting anyone anywhere at all.

We were told at General Synod that the diocesan Cascade Conversations would be over by the end of November, which was later altered to the end of the year, which has been further extended as we know now that one Diocese is not holding its events until the spring of next year. And once these events actually are over, we will have “further conversations” in Diocesan Synods. And what will happen after that? Bishop Gregor spoke briefly about plans that the Faith and Order Board have for options that might be offered to Synod, but no suggestion as to what form those options might take or what timescale they might take place over.

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting where someone asked about the timeline of the process and when it would end. This was not a Cascade event – this was a different meeting, public and minuted and with no expectations of confidentiality, all of which means I am allowed to say that a member of the provincial Design Group was present and their response was that the process will never end because the Church must always keep talking about lots of issues. I acknowledged the truth to this but said that, as I had been told by the Province and by the Diocese and by the House of Bishops that nothing else could happen until the Cascade process, as it had been pitched to us, had ended, it must end. I have still not been given an answer as to when it will.

The best thing I can say on a personal level about the Cascade Conversations in this Diocese is that on one occasion I found them blandly inoffensive and lacklustre, and I left wondering what it was I had just wasted my Saturday on.

Now, let me return to this idea of strict confidentiality and let’s talk about the principle of safe space.

For when it has been worse, the worse has been created by this wilful misunderstanding of the difference between confidentiality and secrecy.

I was one of a number of people at the Diocesan Synod in Glasgow and Galloway, long before even the Pitlochry event, who tried to educate the original Design Group on what a safe space actually is and why an imposition of confidentiality on a group that is on the wrong side of a power imbalance is dangerous and abusive.

That word, “abusive”.

I do not use it carelessly. I do not take it lightly when I say that a harmful thing has been done wilfully, but in this case a harmful thing was deliberately included in a process after multiple people who have some experience in this matter had tried to talk about what a safe space is and what it is supposed to be, and were ignored.

In the course of the Cascade Conversations that have taken place in this Diocese, a number of offensive and inappropriate and factually inaccurate things have been said, each one of them about LGBT people, and none of the LGBT people there were allowed to talk about them afterwards.

We are not allowed to talk about them to each other, or at Synods, or in public, or online. And when the Province tells me how wonderful this has all been and I tell them that it hasn’t, I am not allowed to say, “and this is why.” I think it is harmful that when offensive things were said to me in my small group, I was not allowed to tell the rest of the room what had been said. I think it is harmful that I was not allowed to challenge those things and that I was expected to receive them with “respectful listening”. I think it is harmful that I am not allowed to report them at Synod or talk about it online. I think that telling me that I am not allowed to speak about any of those things or repeat them to anyone else, ever, is a harmful process and is the very opposite of what a safe space is meant to be.

And don’t forget, I’m not the one who has the most to lose in all of this.

I could lose my church, and that’s not nothing.

But I have friends who could lose their careers, their homes, and their relationships over this, and that’s a lot more.

If a process which was designed by a power structure to talk about a minority group has as one of its core principles that members of the minority group must be silent on the matter of what was said about and to them, that is abuse.

It is my understanding from a member of the provincial Design Group that this Cascade process and how well it has gone has been informally reported to bodies outside of Scotland and outside of the Anglican Communion, and they are so pleased with how well they are being told it has gone that they are considering adopting the process for themselves.

This is not being done in my name.


SEC General Synod: Rule 10 Motion for Debate on Equal Marriage

I commented last week on my disappointment that the Standing Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church had chosen not to bring a motion that I had proposed to them. The motion proposed a framework for taking forward discussions about equal marriage within the Church. The text of that motion is available to read here.

There is a mechanism of Church law through which a motion can be brought outwith the usual way of it going on the agenda through Standing Committee. This is called a Rule 10. If the motion is supported by a proposer, a seconder, and twelve voting members of a Synod, it can be put to Synod in two stages. The first stage asks the Synod to choose, via a two thirds majority, whether or not they wish to take the motion forward to open debate.

That motion was put to Synod today through the first stage of the Rule 10 procedure and with the support of thirteen courageous people — men and women, clergy and laity, gay and straight, from all across Scotland.

The Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney requested that the vote take place by secret ballot. The vote on the motion was 77 for and 55 against, which is a 58% majority. The motion will not be brought.

This is what I said to Synod this afternoon:

Chair, members of Synod.

There has been a conversation on same sex relationships in our church for the last year through the Design Group, and more recently through the Cascade Conversations which it has facilitated. The conversations that took place in Pitlochry were very positive experiences for many who were there, some of whom signed this motion.

Although many of you will think that we are already spending a lot of time during this Synod talking about this very issue, what we are not being given is the opportunity to do so in open debate. The discussion tomorrow is intended to be in the form of a presentation followed by table discussions only. If we agree to debate this on Saturday morning, it will give us our only opportunity this year to talk about this issue together as a whole Synod of this Church.

This motion will allow the whole Church to take forward the positive things to have come out of the Cascade process.

People have said to me: wait, be patient, the conversation will happen, next year, next year. But we did not start talking about this last year with the commissioning of the Design Group. And we started talking about it long before the Scottish Government began seeking legislation for equal marriage. We have been talking about this for years.

There are Episcopalians who have been waiting many years to be married, and some of them do not have a lot of “next years” left.

There are Episcopalians of deep faith and good conscience who take a different view to me, and who are frustrated and frightened by our inability to talk openly about what might happen and what it might mean for them.

I am one of the youngest members of this Synod, and I am not an Episcopalian by birth but by choice. I have been proud to join this Church and to call myself a member of it. Of this Church with its rich history of Synodical decision making, its long understanding that to accept more than one idea is to make us better and stronger, its deeply held tradition that all, all, are welcome in this place.

The motion was proposed by me and seconded by the Very Reverend Andrew Swift, Dean of Argyll and the Isles. It was endorsed in the Rule 10 process by:

  • The Very Reverend Nicola McNelly (Diocese of Argyll and the Isles)
  • The Reverend Canon Clifford Piper (Diocese of Moray, Ross, and Caithness)
  • The Very Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth (Convenor of the Information and Communication Board)
  • Rev Samantha Ferguson (Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney)
  • Rev Cedric Blakey (Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway)
  • Rev Daniel Gafvert (Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway)
  • Rev Ruth Innes (Diocese of Edinburgh)
  • Mrs Anne P Jones (General Synod Representative to Standing Committee)
  • Mr Matthew Pemble (Diocese of Edinburgh)
  • Mrs Christine McIntosh (Diocese of Argyll and the Isles)
  • Mrs Susan Ward (Diocese of Edinburgh)
  • Mr Graeme Hely (Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway)

I thank those who stood with me on this and the majority of Synod who wanted and voted for it to be debated. I believe we have demonstrated a clear will within the Scottish Episcopal Church to move forward on the issues.

Let’s Talk

It is General Synod next week.

There are going to be lots of interesting conversations at Synod, conversations about what our Scottishness has to do with how we identify ourselves as a Church and about how we train ordinands and about how we count people who come to church and about what happens when someone who needs to be commemorated inconveniently dies on a major festival. Last year was my first General Synod and I liked being there and being part of those sorts of conversations.

I admit to being sorry and disappointed that Standing Committee have this year refused to bring a motion that was proposed to them regarding discussions on same-sex marriage. Those of us who are attending Synod or are alternate members of Synod have already read the text of that rejected motion, and as those of you who have read it will already be aware, I was the proposer of it. I’m sorry that it’s been rejected, because I think that a valuable whole Church conversation could have been had had such a motion been brought as part of the ordinary business of Synod; and I’m disappointed, because those who choose how Church business is to be conducted have for a couple of years now been conducting themselves in a manner that I think lacks courage.

For those not on Synod who might be interested, the motion that I proposed was as follows:

This Synod notes:

1) The recent passage of legislation which allows same-sex couples to marry in Scotland,

2) The principle which is now established in Scots law that no one should be forced to act against their conscience in this area,

3) That Scottish Episcopalians are not of one mind about these and other matters.

This Synod resolves:

1) For the wellbeing, peace, and mission of the Church, to endorse the principle that no one should be forced to act against their conscience in this area within the Church,

2) To request that the Faith and Order board asks the Committee on Canons to draft an amendment to Canon 31 which will allow for the possibility of same-sex weddings taking place in the Scottish Episcopal Church whilst ensuring that no celebrant be compelled to act against their conscience in this area,

3) To consider such an amendment for First Reading at General Synod 2015, with consequent discussion in Diocesan Synods as an integral part of the Church’s wider conversations within this area,

4) To notify dioceses immediately after this Synod as to how General Synod intends this matter to be considered.

However, my disappointment that this motion will not be being brought is nothing compared to my disappointment in the manner in which we will be discussing the issue at Synod.

The main thing we will be doing is hearing a series of short presentations on Pitlochry conversations, a process that I spoke about here. I have spoken to a couple of people who went to Pitlochry. My understanding is that it was useful as a listening process and that people came away from it with a lot to think about it and feeling generally affirmed. I am pleased about this, and I am pleased that the experience was so positive — certainly it was more positive than I feared it might be. On the other hand, my understanding is also that in spite of all the positives it is not a conversation that has got us anywhere in terms of what we want to do, how we are going to do it, or in what sort of timescale we might be having the conversation. After the people who were in Pitlochry have given their presentations, there will be small group discussions at Synod. There will be no whole Synod conversation and no chance for real feedback (we will have the opportunity to write things on flipcharts), and, so far as I am aware, nothing in the small group discussions is likely to be made public. It is not clear at this stage, even after asking, whether the content or outcome of the small group debates will be recorded in the minutes. It is most likely not.

There will be no chance at all for anyone to get up at Synod and say, “I disagree with the way we are doing this.”

I raised my disappointment in a Diocesan meeting with how this conversation is going to be had next week at General Synod. It seems to me more and more that the Church is trying to avoid doing or saying anything that will necessitate them having a conversation in public or making any sort of decision. I have never before had the experience of having everyone in a room agree with me. It is a disconcerting experience.

But it does say a lot about where the people within the Church are on this.

I think we are getting to a point now where people on all sides of the aisle would really rather just get on with it. It might be that we do disagree with what we want the outcome of this conversation to be — and I don’t know that we do disagree as much as we think we do. I don’t want the Scottish Episcopal Church to become a place where only the people who agree with me are welcome. I want this to be a place where all — all — are welcome. I want no one to be forced to act against their conscience. I want to believe in the same God as do people who agree with me about marriage, as do people who endorse a traditional view of marriage, as do people who think we should just do it like they do in France. I believe absolutely in religious freedom, and that means believing in the religious freedom of people who have views different from mine as well as the religious freedom of people who broadly agree with me. The Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole is a broad church and a church where one of the things we have historically been good at is believing that there is room for more than one idea. That is a history that I am proud of and one that I think should also be part of our future.

And the point we are at now is that all kinds of people who have all kinds of ideas are starting to think that we should define what we are talking about and then actually talk about it, so that we can reach an outcome and then get on with the business of living it and then talk about something else.

Are you not bored of talking about this? I am. I am bored. I would like to move on and talk about other things. But so long as the Church keeps dragging its feet and talking around it instead of about it, I can’t and nor can anyone else.

Design Group for the Discussion of Same Sex Relationships

Today was the Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway.

I chose not to seek a point of clarification at Synod today because I’d realised that I was so angry that had I got my hands on a microphone at that particular moment I would have done something that I have never done, ever, not in any church, not at an AGM or a Vestry or at General Synod. At that moment, I did not trust myself to speak without losing my temper. The Bishop, the Chair, the whole of Synod, all the invited guests, and the members of the Design Group for the Discussion of Same-Sex Relationships. They would all have got shouted at and I don’t think I could have brought myself to entirely regret it later.

The point that I wanted to clarify was in any case clarified by someone else, but I’ll come to that.

Yes, I am banging on about same-sex relationships again. Oh, believe me, I am as bored of talking about it as I know you are of hearing me talk about it, but, given that I participated in a small group conversation today in which LGBT people were referred to as those people, I trust you’ll see why I don’t consider my job done.

Today, we have been given an update from the Design Group for the Discussion of Same-Sex Relationships. I mentioned this process last June when it was imposed on a dissenting General Synod, and the Provost wrote before Synod last year about the information we were given on the process — information, I might add, that has never been made publicly available, to the point that there were people at Diocesan Synod for whom today was the first time they knew that such a process had been taking place. I was invited in my capacity as one of the convenors of Changing Attitude Scotland to meet with the Design Group late last year, and I declined to do so on the grounds that we do not believe it wise to collude with or endorse a process that we don’t believe is fit for purpose. In declining that invitation, I outlined at some length what our issues with the process were and I informed both the Design Group and the Standing Committee of General Synod of the alternative mechanism that I propose for seeking resolution to the issue of same-sex marriage within the Church. The proposition, which I do not feel is a terribly radical one, is that a resolution is sought through the usual channels of Synod, which would lead to a three year discussion with an end in sight and a framework for getting there. I keep being accused of trying to rush the process. I presume you will forgive me for believing that three years has never by any definition constituted a rush.

In all of the correspondence I’ve had on this subject over the last eight or nine months, one of the things I’ve kept saying is that it isn’t my intention to undermine the work of the Design Group. I’d been told very little about the work that they had done, but I thought that if it were good then it could be used to bring about just such a motion as to lead to what I propose and I didn’t think it out of the realm of possibility that their work might start us off in facilitating just such a three year discussion process as I’ve described.

My view on that has changed somewhat today.

It is my opinion that not only the process which led to its formulation but the Design Group as a group is not fit for any purpose at all. It is my opinion that the existence of the design process and its imposition on General Synod last year is and has always been a stalling tactic. It is my opinion that the Design Group considers LGBT people to be Other. It is my opinion that this has not been and will not be a transparent process. It is my opinion that the Design Group is not a safe space for people who happen to be gay, and that furthermore both the Design Group itself and any space or conversation that it tries to facilitate will potentially be a dangerous space for people who happen to be gay.

I am tired of being talked about as if I am not there. I am tired of LGBT people being talked about as though we are not Christians, as though there are no LGBT people in our churches or in our rectories or on our Synods. I am angry that when these conversations take place, they are of a tone and with a presumption that a conversation about same-sex marriage is about Other People, that it is not about the marriages of people who are in the room, and that a conversation about gay bishops is about Other People, that it is not about the careers of people who are in the room. I am so tired of standing up just to remind them that I am not an abstract concept.

I believe that this is a process with no credibility and that if the Province continues to pursue something so deeply flawed and so very unsafe that that will raise questions about the credibility of the Church.

For consider this:

You cannot claim to be working to provide a safe space for conversation if you demonstrably have no understanding of what a safe space means to LGBT people.

A Brave New World

This morning, I woke up in a country where I have the right, granted by my government and protected under the law, to ask someone to marry me. I know that that doesn’t sound like a big thing to a lot of you. But when I was growing up, I didn’t ever believe that that would be a reality in my lifetime — I might only be a wean, but remember that I did most of my growing up under Section 28 and that homosexuality had been decriminalised in Scotland only four years before I was born. It’s a huge thing. It’s no wonder I can’t shut up about it.

I was on a life support course yesterday and then I had a time-sensitive errand that I absolutely could not not run, and so it was that when the arguments were being summed up I was in a garage with Flo’s wife trying to find a feed that would play on an iPhone.

“Sorry,” we said to my (wonderful) car salesperson. “Sorry, we’re being very rude but they’re voting in the Scottish Parliament.”

“Is this the marriage law?” he asked.

I nodded.

My car salesperson is a straight-talking straight Glaswegian. There was a time when I would have avoided a conversation about LGBT politics for fear of the response I might get. The fact that I no longer avoid those conversations is a little bit because I’ve changed.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous, if you ask me,” he said.

And then Beanie flapped at me because they were voting and I abandoned all pretence at polite conversation, first while we watched the vote and the announcement that the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act had passed at 105 votes for to 18 against(!) and then while we screamed and hugged and cried. In the middle of the garage.

“I’m sorry, I’m okay, I’m sorry about the crying.” I rambled, incoherently, in half-sentences that I couldn’t finish because I had to keep stopping so that I could stop myself from bursting into tears, trying to explain the significance of what just happened.

“You’re all right,” he said. “I was just saying, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I mean, what’s the difference? You should just be able to get married!”

That, right there, is how we’ve changed the world.

It’s Time For A Vote

The final debate on the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act starts today at 2pm in the Scottish Parliament, with the final vote afterwards.

I know you all know this well enough to sing along to now.

Once more, with feeling.

This Time It’s Personal

There are people who would tell you that I’m too prone to taking things personally, and never moreso than when it comes to my politics. It’s true. I’m not ashamed of it.

Cut off my friends’ disability services? Personal. Saddle a generation of working class students with crippling debt? Personal. Legislate against what decisions I’m allowed to make about my own body? Personal. Launch a vendetta against working women? Personal. Try to cut up my NHS and sell it off for loose change? Personal.

Tell me that I shouldn’t be allowed to get married? Personal.

And for reasons beyond the obvious.

Let me tell you a story about the equal marriage campaign.

On a wet Monday evening in the early spring of 2009, a guy called Nick Henderson came from the Equality Network to talk to the St Mary’s LGBT Group. He wanted to talk to us about a petition that he was putting together to present to the Scottish Parliament asking them to consult on the possibility of same-sex marriage legislation. At the end of that meeting, a number of us had agreed to start collecting signatures, and that was what I ended up doing during the Easter term of my third year of medical school. I would dash away at the end of a lecture or a clinical skills session to meet up with some other cathedral people outside the library or in the university cafeteria, and we would spend our respective lunch hours with clipboards and biros.

A few months and a lot of signatures after that, with the same sort of work having been done by groups of people around Scotland, I went to Edinburgh, to the petitions committee at Holyrood to watch them consider this petition that we had put forward. As we waited for the afternoon session to start, I had coffee with Tim Hopkins, also from the Equality Network, and we talked about the public launch of the campaign that would need to happen if the petition was accepted. Most likely at Pride, which was coming up in a matter of a few weeks.  Tim mused on how good it would be if he could get a member of the clergy to speak at the launch. I know a priest who I think would probably do it, I said.

(A word to the wise: If you ever volunteer your priest to speak at Pride, don’t forget to tell him or her that you’ve done it.)

So it was that I found myself back in Edinburgh, in the rain, for Pride (it isn’t Pride if it’s not raining) with a ragtag bunch of Scottish Episcopalians, standing underneath an open-top bus that was fitted up with a sound system that didn’t work, listening to Kelvin shout about the white knot and marriage equality. A thing that he has continued to shout about for the last five years.

And that was where it started.

And when it did start, equal marriage wasn’t something that was on the international radar in the way that it is now. Only six countries had passed laws that allowed same-sex marriage. It wasn’t even a blip on the political landscape in Westminster, where in less than two months the first marriages between same-sex couples will actually take place. Just five years later, tomorrow, Scotland will become the seventeenth country to pass such a law. For five years, LGBT Scotland and the Equality Network have run an extraordinary campaign and I hope that sometime in the next 24 hours we will all learn that that campaign has achieved something wonderful. It has been an honour to play a very small part in what I truly believe will turn out to have been an enormous piece of the history of the civil rights movement of this century.

This is personal to me.

It’s personal because of the work that I’ve done and the work that my friends have done. It’s personal because of a campaign that I’ve considered myself part of since it was a thought of an idea. It’s personal because it’s who I am. The story doesn’t end with this. There are battles still to be fought and won. But on Wednesday morning I might wake up in a country where I can get married, and it doesn’t get more personal than that.

Let’s Go To A Wedding

I go to a lot of weddings, and therefore they are a subject on which I feel I can speak with a certain amount of authority.

I’m twenty-eight and recently graduated, which both put me squarely in the demographic which is most likely to be getting married and having babies and therefore most likely to also have friends who are doing those things. As a server at the altar of the Lord, I spend a not insignificant number of Saturday afternoons hustling around a cathedral looking for stray stoles and unpaired black shoes and then watching two people whom I’ve usually never met before make vows to one another. And as an ex-chorister in the Church of England and as the stepdaughter of an ex-churchwarden in the Church of England, I’ve spent a lot of Saturday afternoons in various churches around the land riffling through hymn books and handing out service sheets and choreographing bridesmaids.

So, you see, this is a thing that I know about.

The things that I have seen at weddings include (but are not limited to):

  • In almost all cases, guests who avoid going into the church until the last possible moment, as though by actually approaching the door they risk being forced back by a blast of garlic fumes.
  • A registrar who took so long with the signing of the register that the pre-prepared playlist of over twenty minutes ran out and we turned, for Plan B, to Whatever Beth Has On Her iPod.
  • Terrible bridesmaid dresses.
  • One photographer who brought a video camera with him so large that I presumed he had liberated it from the BBC while on his way to the church and then proceeded to park it directly in the path that the happy couple would need to take.
  • Men who have clearly never worn kilts before.
  • A priest and a server sitting in a car in the main street of a one-horse town in South Lanarkshire failing despite two mobile phones and a sat nav to work out where the wedding they were supposed to be going was to be held.
  • A father of the bride who quoted Josiah Bartlet in the opening of his speech.
  • A page boy and a bridesmaid who came down the aisle in a motorised car.
  • A groom who wanted an Entrance Of The Groom and duly had it, to The Dambusters theme tune.
  • That everyone in England always chooses All Things Bright And Beautiful because they think that everyone will know it.
  • That nobody sings anyway.
  • That some people are a bit daring and choose Lord Of The Dance instead, having apparently not paid any attention to the words when they were doing their choosing.
  • A priest who got the middle names of the couple mixed up.
  • A priest who carefully balanced his stone on the cairn that the couple was building, and, like Jenga, made it collapse.
  • A registrar whose pen ran out.
  • The odd bridesmaid who was apparently never told that being a bridesmaid would involve doing things.
  • A guest who appeared at a really quite posh venue wrapped head-to-toe in a tartan rug which she had walked through the town market dressed in due to a far away car park and general lack of umbrella. (Me.)
  • Happy tears.
  • Laughter.
  • Love.
  • Promises.

The social change in the last ten years that has more than any other made the difference to support for same-sex marriage has been civil partnerships. An odd thing to say about a law that at the time I thought still perpetuated a second-class of citizenship for the LGBT community. There’s an extent to which I still believe that’s true — if I didn’t, I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of equal marriage. My fear then was that this would mean that equal marriage might never happen, because legislators would think it unnecessary. And there are some legislators who do say that. But it is to the surprise and delight of eighteen-year-old me, civil partnerships have turned out to be overwhelmingly a force for good, because they sweep away the old prejudices about gay relationships. Because where before the only thing the general population had to think about same-sex relationships was about gay sex, now when people think about same-sex relationships they think about two men or two women pledging vows to one another in front of their friends and their family.

They think about weddings.

And it is that that has changed the world.

You will see in that list of things that I’ve told you about weddings, I haven’t told you which ones were the weddings of opposite-sex couples and which ones were the civil partnerships or blessings of civil partnerships for same-sex couples. I bet if you read back through it, you won’t be able to tell. I bet if you try to guess, you’ll get some of them wrong. The ceremonies that are put together by the opposite-sex couples who I’ve seen make promises to each other are not substantively different to the ceremonies put together by the same-sex couples who I’ve seen make those promises. And the love that I see shared by the same-sex couples who come together to vow their lives to one another is certainly no different to the love I see shared by the opposite-sex couples who make that vow.

It is my hope that on Tuesday we will see that no difference enshrined in the law of Scotland.

Friends, Activists, Legislators

On Tuesday, the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act comes to Holyrood for its final vote.

It’s a strange feeling, that a piece of legislation that started out, at the very beginning, with a small meeting and a white piece of paper, has brought us to this place at this time. An idea that I truly thought wouldn’t go anywhere, but a conversation that I thought it was important to have anyway. A labour of love for so many people of whom I am so very proud, and for me too.

If you watch the news or read the papers or really are alive in any way at all, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the die has been cast and that the events of next week are a foregone conclusion. A politician (kind of) once said this: there’s moment after you cast the die but before it hits the table — breathe wrong and you’ll change the way it lands. It isn’t done. You still have time to write, email, and phone your MSPs and tell them that it is important to you that they vote for equal marriage on Tuesday.

Over the next four days, I’ll be posting something every day about this.

I thought I’d start by looking back at some of the things that have been said about equal marriage legislation and why we think this is important.

First, it’s easy to get tangled up in the rhetoric and forget what it is we’re actually talking about. Clare Flourish gives us a good run down of what this bill is and what it isn’t.

Jaye Richards-Hill, who you may recognise from the time she and her wife Ruth had their marriage blessed in front of Holyrood, reminds us all that we aren’t looking for special rights but merely for equal ones.

And then let’s have a look again at the speech that David Lammy gave to the House of Commons during the passage of the similar legislation in England.

I’ve written a lot about this over the years, including a piece about why I think it’s time for equal marriage and my pride on the day eighteen months ago that the Scottish Parliament announced that they would be seeking to legislate for it.

A number of religious bodies have made positive contributions to this campaign. For just a few examples, take a look at the letter sent to Parliament by the Faith in Marriage coalition, at the responses made to the government consultation by Ekklesia, the United Reformed Church, the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group, and Changing Attitude Scotland, and at Kelvin Holdsworth talking about love, respect, and inclusion.

Read what Caron Lindsay wrote about watching the legislation pass through its initial reading in parliament at the end of last year.

Remember that we are merely the latest ripple in a tidal wave of equality that has been sweeping around the world. Remember that when New Zealand passed equal marriage, there came no hurricane nor hellfire nor plague of frogs but instead the singing of a Maori love song that spread across the Internet and to the ends of the earth.

And then have another listen to our song.