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Scottish Episcopal Church votes to allow same-sex marriage

Scottish Episcopal Church votes to allow same-sex marriage

By Chris Green
June 8, 2017

Gay couples could be married in Scottish churches within a year after the Scottish Episcopal Church voted in favour of allowing its clergy to preside over same-sex weddings.

The historic decision, reached after an impassioned debate at the Church's General Synod in Edinburgh, makes it the first mainstream Christian church in the UK to allow gay marriage.

It also means that gay Christians from any Anglican Church can now ask to be married in Scotland, giving many their first opportunity for a church wedding.

Members of the Church's houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity were asked to vote on whether to replace Canon 31, the doctrinal clause stating that marriage is between a man and a woman.

All three houses were required to approve the motion by a two-thirds majority. It received the backing of 80 per cent of Bishops, 67 per cent of Clergy and 80 per cent of Laity.

Under the new rules, clergy who want to preside over gay weddings will have to put themselves forward for the role, allowing those who object to the decision to opt out.

Introducing the motion, the Bishop of Edinburgh Dr John Armes said the new definition of marriage would "protect the consciences both of those who believe that they must not -- and of those who believe that they must -- offer God's blessing on a marriage of a same-sex couple".

He added: "No one is being asked to change their theology of marriage. The change is that our church would officially recognise that it contains a diversity of viewpoints.

"If, for example, a cleric does not believe they can officiate at the marriage of a same-sex couple, they need do nothing."

The decision puts the Church at odds with most of the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and some members condemned the proposed changes during the preceding debate.

Rev Canon Ian Ferguson, of the Aberdeen diocese, said that if the motion was passed it would be "one of the saddest and most painful days" in the history of the Church, describing it as a "broken" institution.

"I'm deeply concerned that in the passing of this Canon, the Scottish Episcopal Church will be disagreeing with the teachings of our Lord Jesus, who has made it clear that marriage is a union of one man and one woman," he added. "Changing our definition of marriage...is a schismatic move that will cause serious harm to our unity and future relationship with our sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion."

But other gay members of the Church spoke passionately about the importance of changing the doctrine. Victoria Stock, a lay representative from the diocese of Edinburgh, urged other members to "stand up for what is right".

Speaking of her "deep hurt and pain" at being told that there was "something wrong" with her when she came out as gay, she added: "If Jesus was standing right here in this room today, he would be telling us just to get on with it."

The Most Rev David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, described the decision as "the end of a long journey" and called for members to come together in reconciliation.

He added: "This is a momentous step. By removing gender from our marriage canon, our church now affirms that a same sex couple are not just married but are married in the sight of God."


Church of England: The Church's teaching remains that marriage is only permitted between heterosexual couples, although gay clergy are permitted to live celibate lives in civil partnerships. Earlier this year a report by the House of Bishops recommended that the Church should not change its opposition to same-sex marriage, but should adopt a "fresh tone and culture of welcome and support" for gay people. However, in February the report was rejected at the General Synod, in what gay rights campaigners said was a victory for "love and equality". What will happen next remains unclear.

Catholic Church: The Church strongly believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Last year Pope Francis released a report on the importance of the family which affirmed the Church's opposition to gay equality and same-sex marriage. Although past Synods have heard proposals for the Church to water down its opposition, these have been disregarded. The Pope's report argued that there were "absolutely no grounds" for considering the recognition of "homosexual unions".

Church of Scotland: Despite opposing the legalisation of gay marriage in Scotland in 2014, last month the Kirk's General Assembly backed a report which could lead to same-sex weddings being performed in churches. The Church's legal questions committee is now examining the practicalities of the plan. The document, which also called for the church to apologise for its past treatment of gay people, recommended that any decision on whether or not to carry out gay marriages should be left up to individual ministers.


Scottish Episcopal Church approves gay marriage

June 8, 2017

The Scottish Episcopal Church has voted to allow gay couples to marry in church.

It makes it the first major Christian church in the UK to allow same-sex marriages.

The vote to amend canon law on marriage, removing the stipulation that it is between a man and a woman, was carried by the Synod in Edinburgh.

It means that gay Christians from any Anglican Church can now ask to be married in a Scottish Episcopal Church.

Clergy who wish to officiate at gay marriages will have to "opt-in".

The church said this meant that those who disagreed with gay marriage would be protected and not have to act against their conscience.

The Episcopal Church's Bishop of Edinburgh, The Right Reverend Dr John Armes, said: "I am very pleased for the couples who can now have their relationships recognised by the church and blessed by God.

"I'm also pleased for what this means about our church and the way we have been able to do this. But obviously any change like this creates pain and hurt in some as well, so as a bishop of the church I feel for them."

Passionate debate

The vote to allow same-sex marriage - which required the backing of at least two thirds of each house of Bishops, Clergy and Laity - has left the church at odds with most of the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

A group of global Anglican traditionalists have now announced that they will appoint a missionary bishop "to serve the needs of those who oppose gay marriage".

A senior figure in the group, Archbishop Foley Beach, said: "Today's decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to change the biblical and historic definition of marriage has highlighted the need to respond to the cries and pleas of those Scots who today have been marginalised by their leaders.

"The attempt to redefine marriage is not one that a faithful Christian can support."

At last year's Synod, members of the Church agreed to send the issue for discussion to its seven dioceses.

Six of them voted in favour of amending the law. Only Aberdeen and Orkney voted against the proposal.

Same sex marriage became legal in Scotland at the end of 2014 but the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church opposed the move.

The issue has provoked passionate debate within the Anglican Communion.

In January last year, the communion sanctioned the US Episcopal Church when it decided to allow gay marriage in church.

However, last month the Church of Scotland voted to approve a report which could allow ministers to conduct same-sex weddings in the future.

And in February, a report opposing gay marriage was opposed by the Church of England's Synod.

'Departure from faith'

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion described the Episcopal Church's decision as "a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage".

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon said: "The churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make their own decisions on canon law. The Scottish Episcopal Church is one of 38, soon to be 39, provinces covering more than 165 countries around the world.

"As Secretary General, I want the churches within the Anglican Communion to remain committed to walking together in the love of Christ and to working out how we can maintain our unity and uphold the value of every individual in spite of deeply-held differences. It is important to stress the Communion's strong opposition to the criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people.

"The primates of the Communion will be meeting in Canterbury in October. I am sure today's decision will be among the topics which will be prayerfully discussed. There will be no formal response to the SEC's vote until the primates have met."

'Really positive message'

The equality campaign group Stonewall Scotland said it was "delighted" with the outcome of the vote.

The groups's director Colin Macfarlane said: "This step allows couples to celebrate their love within their faith and sends a really positive message to other LGBT people, both here and around the world.

"It signals that members of the church welcome, recognise and respect LGBT people as part of the faith community."


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