Scottish Episcopal Church votes to allow Equal Marriage
What follows is a factual account of the recent vote on equal marriage with remarks made by the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and chair of the General Synod. At the end I add some guidance I have received from Bishop Gregor. The italics are mine.
The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church on 8th June, 2017 voted in favour of altering the church’s Canon on Marriage to remove the definition that marriage is between a man and a woman and add a new section that acknowledges that there are different understandings of marriage which now allows clergy to solemnise marriage between same sex couples as well as couples of the opposite sex. The revised canon also stipulates that no member of clergy will be required to solemnise a marriage against their conscience. The voting was in three ‘houses’ of General Synod, namely Bishops, Clergy and Laity and required a two thirds majority to pass.
Responding to the voting outcome, the Most Rev David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church said: “In the life of the church, end points are often also starting points. This is a momentous step. By removing gender from our marriage canon, our church now affirms that same sex couples are not just married but are married in the sight of God. They can ‘leave and cleave’. They can express in marriage a commitment to lifelong faithfulness to one another and to the belief that a calling to marriage is for them too a calling to love, forgiveness, sacrifice, truth. A new chapter opens up – inclusion has taken a particular form. But this same decision is difficult and hurtful for others whose integrity in faith tells them that this decision is unscriptural and profoundly wrong. For them this new chapter will feel like an exclusion – as if their church has moved away from them.
So the journey which we now begin must also be a journey of reconciliation. Every faith community must face the issues which are bound up with human sexuality – in their own way and in their own time.
Others will arrive at answers different from ours. And the Anglican Communion, which is embedded in our history and to which we are passionately committed – the Anglican Communion will have to explore whether its historic commitment to unity in diversity can embrace this change.
I have said this many times before: a vote in General Synod changes the canonical position of our church. But it cannot lay to rest the deep differences which this question exposes in this and every other faith community. The new Canon itself affirms that there are differing views of marriage in our church. Nobody will be compelled to do anything against their conscience. We affirm that we are a church of diversity and difference, bound together by our oneness in Christ. We shall carry forward in our life two honourable and historic understandings of marriage – one which sees the marriage of same sex couples as an expression of Christ-like acceptance and welcome – and another which says that the traditional view of marriage is God-ordained and scripturally defined.
That is the journey. That is now the calling of this church. We must and we shall address it with truth, graciousness and acceptance of one another.”
Recently I received a letter from Bishop Gregor outlining the arrangements being made within the Episcopal Church in respect of these changes. The College of Bishops have sought legal advice particularly on the position of vestries and others in congregations who might have difficulties with this move. The College has been advised that a vestry would be considered to be a “group of persons with control” (under the Marriage & Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014) over church premises and could, therefore, lawfully decide that same-sex marriages should not be solemnised in their church. Protection is offered to clergy and laity who, through conscience, do not wish to be involved in equal marriage. The change to Canon 31 will, in practical terms, have no impact in our Wigtownshire churches if we do not wish it.
General Synod: Voting on Canon 31
House of Bishops: For – 4 (80%), Against – 1 (20%)
Clergy: For – 42 (67.7%), Against – 20 (32.3%)
Laity: For – 50 (80.6%), Against – 12 (19.4%)
With my heartfelt prayers, Michael