Scottish Catholic attack on same-sex marriage 'may backfire'

By staff writers
26 Aug 2012

Catholic priests in Scotland have read out a letter in each of the Church's parishes attacking the Scottish government for plans to introduce same-sex marriage.

But the reaction to the move, which followers Cardinal Keith O'Brien breaking off personal discussions on the issue with First Minister Alex Salmond, has been decidedly mixed.

A number of Catholics and many people from other communities say that it is a mistake to make a political attack on a move by the civic authorities which does not require the Church to change its stance or to conduct any ceremonies it does not wish to.

"This could seriously backfire and leave the Church facing more hostility and isolation," one insider told Ekklesia. "Trying to impose Church teaching on wider society is a mistake, just as it would be a mistake if the civil authorities tried to force the Church to comply with actions that go against its conscience. We cannot have it both ways."

The Scottish government says it is right to introduce same-sex marriage for those who want it, and has stressed again and again that no priests or clergy will be forced to carry out the ceremonies.

The letter from the Catholic hierarchy criticises the Scottish government, announces the launch of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family, and promises to coordinate a continuing campaign against same-sex marriage.

It says: "We reaffirm before you all the common wisdom of humanity and the revealed faith of the Church that marriage is a unique life-long union of a man and a woman."

It also asks each church's congregation to "pray for our elected leaders, invoking the Holy Spirit on them, that they may be moved to safeguard marriage as it has always been understood, for the good of Scotland and of our society".

The Church declared 26 August 2012 to be National Marriage Sunday, though only for opposite-sex couples.

But the issue, say Christian and other equality campaigners, is that the Church is trying to force all who take a different view over the nature and future of marriage to be compelled by its own current teachings.

Tom French, from the Equality Network in Scotland, says that, sadly, "[t]he letter... is part of a wider anti-gay agenda"

In March 2012, Cardinal O'Brien described gay marriage as a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right".

The Scottish government is bringing forward a bill on same-sex marriage later in 2012. It has indicated that the earliest ceremonies may take place around the beginning of 2015.

Gay couples in Scotland can already enter into civil partnerships. The Scottish government has promised to protect religious freedoms over the issue of marriage, and says that the proposed changes would not see churches forced to carry out same-sex ceremonies.

A Scottish government spokesperson told the BBC and other journalists: "We intend to proceed with plans to allow same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships because we believe it is the right thing to do."

The statement continued: "We are equally committed to protecting religious freedom and freedom of expression, and ensuring that religious celebrants opposed to same sex marriage do not have to solemnise same sex ceremonies."

The Equality Network, which is campaigning in support of same-sex marriage in Scotland, says politicians should stand firm. Policy co-ordinator Tom French said: "It is increasingly clear that the Church has an anti-gay agenda that it wants to impose on the rest of society."

He went on: "We urge the Scottish government to stand firm on plans to introduce equal marriage and not give in to demands that would discriminate against LGBT people."

Critics inside and outside the Catholic Church in Scotland say that its leaders are making a serious mistake in attacking provisions for civil society, and that they are underestimating the bewilderment and anger their stance is producing in the light of wider concerns about sexual abuse and other problems within Church institutions themselves.

[Ekk/3]

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