It’s Time – Marriage Equality and the Scottish Episcopal Church

In eight days time, I will be in Edinburgh at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

A significant piece of business that will be done at this Synod will be to vote on proposed changes to Canon 31, the law that governs marriage within the Church.

I am aware that I have been banging on about this for — well, for a very long time now. It is truly my great hope that I will return to the General Synod of 2018 and get up to make a speech about refugee welfare or clergy education or the budget or anything at all that isn’t about marriage, but this is what we’re doing next week.

There is a lot of detail that I could go into about what exactly it is that we’re doing. If your memory does need refreshing, I’d start with the equal marriage tag on this blog.

A few specific starting points:

The main thing to say about the proposed change is that this is the vote that, if passed, would make marriage equality a reality in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The main thing you need to know, though, is that, if passed, this vote will enact something that is written in such a way as to be the thing that will enable the Scottish Episcopal Church to be kept together: all of us. Those of us who are straight and those of us who are LGBTQI. Those of us who are single and those of us who are married. The most conservative traditionalists and the most liberal progressives, together in a Church where we will be able to finally sing with truth that all are welcome in this place.  

We will need a two-thirds majority — 66.7% — in each of the houses of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity.

I am a child who grew up under Section 28. In the last thirteen years since the Civil Partnerships Act, I have seen the most astonishing seismic shifts in the way LGBTQI people are spoken of and viewed by society, and in the civil rights legislation that has followed, and never more so than in the way things have changed in my last four General Synods.

I am hopeful that we will do the same thing in eight days time in Edinburgh, but, make no mistake, I am taking nothing for granted.

Yes, I have been talking about this for a very long time and I will continue to talk about it and I will not minimise how important it is.

Because — it is important.

To me, on a personal level.

To the Church, because I truly believe this is something that will be good for the whole Church and the whole Communion.

To the world, because when I got into this in the first place it was because I wanted to be in the business of making a better world — and make no mistake, if we do this in our little corner of the globe, our little corner of the Church, then a better world is what we will have made.

I remember that day, that wonderful day in 2014, when marriage equality became the law of the land in Scotland, when an impossible dream came true, and surely, surely, we can do it again.

It’s time, I think, to give this one a dusting off:

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.

It’s Time

This week, a bill will be brought before the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood that will propose the ending of marriage inequality in Scotland. It will propose that two people who love each other should be entitled to have their love recognised in a way that is recognised by our society, irrespective of their genders. It will propose that same-sex couples should be treated as equal under the law with opposite-sex couples. It will propose that we bring to an end our shameful history of believing that LGBT individuals are less human than straight individuals, and our shameful history of enshrining that prejudice into the laws of our land.

 

I was in Holyrood on the fateful afternoon in 2008 when the petition to consider this legislation was first brought to Parliament. I was at Pride on the day a few weeks later when the White Knot campaign for marriage equality was launched. I have been part of this for five years and then some.

But the truth is that I never really expected anything to come of it. There are some fights that are worth fighting even if you don’t win — sometimes, even if you expect to lose. This was one of them.

In the early summer of 2008 when I went to Holyrood with that petition, same-sex marriage was recognised in five countries in the world and in two states of the United States. Proposition 8 was on the table in California, and, five months later, that number had reduced to five countries and one state. Today, same-sex marriage is legal in thirteen countries, twelve states, three tribal jurisdictions, and the District of Columbia in the United States, and parts of Mexico. There is legislation making its way through the governing bodies of eight other countries and the United States Supreme Court is planning to rule on whether statewide bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The world has changed in five years. The world is better, and it’s better because a lot of people of whom I am very proud have worked very hard to make it so. This fight is a fight that isn’t just worth fighting anymore, it’s worth winning.

And when I tell this story in fifty years, when I tell children about this great civil rights movement of the twenty first century, one of the things I plan to tell them is that Scotland was on the right side of history.

It’s time.