Scottish Episcopal Church moves towards marrying same-sex couples

By Savi Hensman
June 15, 2015

The Scottish Episcopal Church has taken a major step towards letting same-sex couples marry in church. However the process of change will take at least two years. If and when final approval is given, priests will be allowed – but not required – to celebrate weddings between same-sex partners.

The General Synod voted to ask the Faith and Order Board to look at revising the church’s rules on marriage. An overwhelming majority backed the resolution.

“That would also allow our clergy to enter into same-sex marriages,” said David Chillingworth, the Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, and Primus (chief bishop) of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

In recent years, several denominations have taken on board the strength of the theological case for opening up marriage to same-sex couples. Several other members of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide family of churches, are already re-examining their teaching and practice. Some however are strongly opposed.

Across Britain (though not in Northern Ireland), marriage equality has become law in recent years. Faith groups are free to decide whether to host weddings. The synod decision in Scotland is likely to encourage greater inclusion in the Church of England and Church in Wales, where discussions on sexuality are taking place.

This development reflects a long process of listening, reflection and prayer among Christians in Scotland and beyond. Increasing numbers of biblical scholars have questioned the view that intimate loving partnerships between people of the same-sex are necessarily wrong.

Also, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have become more visible, it has become clear that many have felt alienated by how they have been treated by churches. A study guide on Human Sexuality was published by the Scottish Episcopal Church in 2001.

Its Doctrine Committee produced a Grosvenor Essay on Marriage and Human Intimacy: Perspectives on same-sex relationships and the life of the church in 2012 and, more recently, a paper on the Theology of Marriage.

This examined various approaches to marriage, against the background of a gradual change in thinking “away from regarding procreation as the primary reason or cause for marriage, and an emphasis on other positive aspects of married life for the couple and for human flourishing. This development in no way diminishes the sanctity of procreation and parenthood, but recognises that they are not integral to all marriages.”

There was greater recognition of “the social goods that can flow from the marriage union, and the deepening of love and of future hope because marriage is an expression of the character of divine love”, as well as the fact that couples might care for children from previous unions or who were adopted or fostered.

Drawing on the Bible, tradition and reason, the discussion document looked at arguments for and against further change which would let clergy offer church weddings to same-sex couples. Many have expressed their frustration at having to turn people away who wanted to marry in church.

The synod vote reflected a widespread recognition that change is needed. However no priest will be forced to conduct such a ceremony if this is against his or her conscience. The Scottish Episcopal Church’s decision will strengthen its ability to witness to God’s love for all.
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© Savitri Hensman is a widely-published Christian commentator of politics, religion, welfare and allied topics. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the care and equalities sector.

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