A senior church figure in Scotland has welcomed the passing of the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill by 105 to 18 votes in Holyrood last night (4 February 2014).
The news came out as early evening news programmes were transmitting. It was promptly welcomed by Quakers in Scotland, the leader of the Iona Community, and the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, Rector and Provost of the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, Glasgow, in the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Writing on his weblog, the leading Anglican priest declared: "Today is a great day. It is a day when things have changed forever.
"I used to campaign quite actively for gay rights in the church. Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was to throw my efforts into changing the law. I was right to do so. Though many who love me greatly were sympathetic, many of them told me I was mad and that it would never happen in my lifetime. It hasn’t just happened in my lifetime. The possibility that I could marry has come in in time for there to be the possiblity that I might one day benefit from it. That great legal change is now accomplished.
"Today is a joyful day for gay and lesbian couples in Scotland and for their supporters. The Scottish Parliament has now made it possible for same-sex couples to get married and no words can express how much I welcome that. It is a significant step towards Equal Marriage and will make it possible for many couples to celebrate the best day of their lives.
"The campaign for marriage equality now moves into the churches in Scotland and those churches have a golden opportunity to show that they support equality, support gay and lesbian Christians and support the settled will of lawmakers. Increasingly, support for marriage equality is becoming the touchstone of moral behaviour for decent people.
"I hope that it is not long before I can marry same-sex couples in St Mary’s Cathedral but we must remember that today the Scottish Parliament passed laws which make it difficult for many religious bodies to opt into the legislation. It will be the case that many same-sex couples will need to have a legal marriage at the local Registrar’s Office and then come to church for a religious ceremony. I look forward to celebrating many joyful nuptial masses for same-sex couples and in due course to conducting legal marriages," Provost Holdsworth declared.
Also welcoming the move, Scottish Quaker Phil Lucas said: “Scottish Quakers are delighted that this Bill has been passed which will bring marriage equality to Scotland, which we have been working towards. Quakers warmly support this move and look forward to celebrating such marriages in our meeting houses.”
Juliet Prager, Deputy Recording Clerk, added: "We welcome this new legislation. Quakers have recognised same-sex marriage since 2009 because we see God in everyone and believe all committed couples should be treated equally. We are delighted that all couples in our community in Scotland will be able to marry. In England and Wales same-sex weddings will be able to take place from 29 March, and it is right that Scottish couples will be treated the same as soon as possible."
The Rev Peter Macdonald, leader of the ecumenical Iona Community, said: "the Iona Community congratulates the Scottish Parliament and Equal Marriage campaign on today's vote."
The Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill in Scotland has met fierce opposition from many in the historic Christian denominations and other faith groups, including wrecking amendments in the Scottish Parliament, which have failed.
The Convener of the Legal Questions Committee of the Church of Scotland, the Rev Alan Hamilton, immediately issued a statement and went onto the media this evening to raise fears of a legal challenge to churches who refuse to conduct same-sex ceremonies.
But equality campaigners inside and outside the churches say that legislation north and south of the border fairly protects religious groups from compulsion, while also denying those who dissent from marriage being inclusive of lesbian and gay people a veto on this happening in wider society.
If anything, the concern is that restrictions are too tight, making it "difficult for many religious bodies to opt into the legislation", as the Provost of St Mary's Cathedral Church pointed out.
Those actively backing the marriage equality provision have included Quakers, Reform and Liberal Judaism, the United Reformed Church, affirming groups within the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, Accepting Evangelicals, and a wide range of of equality and reform groups within both faith and civic constituencies.
* The full article by the Provost of St Mary's Cathedral Church Glasgow can be read here: http://thurible.net/