The Scottish Episcopal Church took the first step towards allowing same sex marriage when its General Synod approved a change to the Church’s canon on marriage at a meeting in Edinburgh today (10 June).
A first reading of a motion to remove the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman and add a conscience clause for those who would not want to conduct a same-sex marriage was approved by 97 votes to 33. Three representatives abstained.
Commenting on the vote, the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway and Acting Convener of the Church’s Faith and Order Board, the Rt Revd Dr Gregor Duncan, said the Synod’s decision was the beginning of a formal process of change.
“The current process will enable the Church come to a formal decision on the matter,” he said. “The passing of the first reading today will bring great joy to some; for others it will be matter of great difficulty. The wording of the proposed change recognises that there are differing views of marriage within our Church and we have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to sustain our unity in the midst of our diversity.”
Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Rev Dr Robert Gillies, opposed the change.
“As one of the two bishops who voted against this motion I feel comfortable with the fact that we have arrived at the position in our Church where those of us who did vote against the motion can nonetheless live with the outcome,” he said. “Along with others, I suspect, who voted the way I did, there was no way in conscience or with integrity that I could have supported this motion. However we have demonstrated how potentially divisive and destructive issues can be sensitively and carefully, and with due process, come to both a good and indeed the best possible outcome for all.”
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church the Most Revd David Chillingworth, called the vote an important moment for the church.
“Today's debate was notable for two things,” he said. “The atmosphere of the debate was warm and accepting - there was a notable lack of tension. It was also encouraging to hear members of the evangelical community, many of whom hold a traditionalist view on the nature of marriage, affirming the outcome of discussions which have taken place during the year between them and members of the College of Bishops and the Faith and Order Board. Those discussions led to agreement on a number of provisions both canonical and pastoral. The intention is to sustain the diversity of our Church and to make it possible for those who could not support the motion to continue to be part of and to minister faithfully within the Scottish Episcopal Church.”
Further debate on the motion will take place at a meeting of General Synod in 2017 when a two-thirds majority in each house of Bishops, Clergy and Laity will be required to make the change legal. Local discussions over the issue by churches and dioceses will take place over the coming months running up to that final vote.
Responding to the outcome today, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon said, “The Churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make decisions about policy. Today’s decision is only the first step in the process of changing canon law on marriage. I would echo what the Archbishop of Canterbury said recently in Zimbabwe on same-sex marriage: there are differing views within the Anglican Communion but the majority one is that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and woman. He also stressed our Primates’ opposition to the criminalization of LGBTIQ people.”
Today’s debate was extended to allow everyone who wanted to speak to take part.
Revd Alastair McDonald from Aberdeen told Synod, “This is still a vote of principle on whether marriage is between a man and a woman or is gender neutral. I still believe that scripture teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and will vote against it.”
Dr Chris Johnston from Edinburgh took a similar view.
“Something clear is being replaced by something meaningless,” he said “I don’t think it’s right to destroy marriage and its meaning. I believe the church has been a beacon for a world that has increasingly lost its way. Could we not go back to the drawing board and do this another way?”
But the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, from Glasgow, was in favour of the change, “I believe that now is the time to walk together - to say ‘yes’ to this,” he said. “To be respectful and kind to one another and work as hard as we can and move on.”
And Dr Julia House, a lay member from Aberdeen also spoke in support of the motion.
“I’m deeply committed to the worldwide Anglican Communion, but I feel we can be salt and light within the church. Maybe we are the grit in the oyster that will help others to think again…”