Affirming Christians and equality advocates have expressed disappointment at the Church of Scotland's negative response to the Scottish Government’s consultation document, “The Registration of Civil Partnerships, Same Sex Marriage”.
The Kirk, Scotland's largest Presbyterian denomination, made a statement yesterday through its Legal Questions Committee, claiming that the Government's proposals to allow non-religious people, smaller churches, liberal Jewish groups, Quakers, the Pagan Federation and Unitarians to celebrate lesbian and gay unions undermines society and the traditional meaning of marriage.
Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister at Aberdeen's Queen's Cross Church, commented: "While the Kirk may not yet be in a position to celebrate equal marriage itself, it is disappointing that it has used its voice to deny the possibility to any other religious community."
"It seems there is still a long way to go before gay people, and their loving relationships, are valued by the Church of Scotland," he added.
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: "I find it difficult to fathom why the Church of Scotland seeks to impose its view on the whole of society when we do not seek to impose our views on it."
The latest Scottish social attitudes survey found that 60 per cent of Scots agreed with gay men and lesbians have equal marriage rights, against 19 per cent who opposed it.
SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that her administration is still likely to press ahead with reform, which will allow same-sex unions but will not in any way force the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church or others - including fundamentalist groups - who oppose same-sex marriages, to perform them.
The Kirk's statement reads as follows:
The Church of Scotland believes it has a responsibility to our nation to be part of the debate and to help shape public opinion and Government policy in accordance with what it understands to be the will of God.
The Church of Scotland cannot agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to allow same-sex marriage. The Government’s proposal fundamentally changes marriage as it is understood in our country and our culture - that it is a relationship between one man and one woman. In common with the historic position of the Christian Church, the Church of Scotland has always viewed marriage as being between one man and one woman. Scriptural references to marriage, whether literal or metaphorical, all operate under this understanding. To redefine marriage to include same-sex marriage may have significant and, as yet, inadequately considered repercussions for our country, for the well-being of families, communities and individuals.
The Church of Scotland is concerned about the speed with which the Scottish Government is proceeding on this issue, and believes that the debate has so far been patchy, undeveloped and exclusive of both ordinary people and the religious community. The Government states that the purpose of this proposal to re-define marriage is to accommodate the wishes of some same-sex couples. The Church believes that much more measured consideration is required before the understanding of marriage which is entrenched and valued within the culture of Scotland, both secular and religious, is surrendered to accommodate this wish.
As matters currently stand, the Church of Scotland also cannot agree to the Government’s proposal that legislation should be changed so that civil partnerships may be registered through religious ceremonies or by religious celebrants or on religious premises. However, it acknowledges and respects that other religious groups may wish to express different views. The Church must also reject the proposal at this stage because it has not had an opportunity to consider the terms of any draft legislation and whether this will effectively protect religious bodies who do not wish to register civil partnerships.
This response honours and reflects the declarations made by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 2011. The Church of Scotland believes homophobia to be sinful; and it is the duty of the Church to welcome, reach out to and minister to all, regardless of sexual orientation and practice.
Above all, the Church of Scotland reaffirms it has a strong pastoral commitment to all people in Scotland, regardless of sexual orientation or beliefs.
* The full text of the Church of Scotland’s response is available on its website at: www.churchofscotland.org.uk