Once again, the Christian right is trying to kick up a fuss over nothing. Reverend Andrew Fothergil (Church of Scotland, Strichen and Tyrie Parish Church, Aberdeenshire) said:
“My personal position is that I think naturally, we have as celebrants, some concerns about the assurances that have been given by the Scottish Government about the safeguards it intends to put in place to protect celebrants who would hold a different position from what the future government legislation might become. I think many of us are a bit nervous about what protection it can actually offer.”
Reverend Fothergil has evidently not read the Church of Scotland’s admirably clear guide to people who want to have their marriage ceremony performed by a Church of Scotland Minister. That’s a shame, because it would calm him down from being “a bit nervous”.
Of the Frequently Asked Questions, the first one is: Q. Can anyone be married in a Church of Scotland church? The answer is:
The Church of Scotland is ‘national’, in that every district has its parish church. The parish minister is willing to discuss conducting marriage for any member of the parish. If you are not a church member, the minister will want to discuss with you whether a religious ceremony is what you are looking for, whether it will have meaning for you, and whether he or she agrees it is appropriate in your situation.
That advice reiterates all the way down the guide, yet Reverend Fothergil appears to be entirely unaware of it:
- The final decision rests with the minister concerned.
- In all cases, a minister will wish to interview a couple before agreeing to marry them, so that he or she is satisfied that a religious ceremony is appropriate.
- The minister of the church in which the marriage is to be celebrated would also need to give approval.
The Equality Act 2010 protects celebrants of a religion opposed to same-sex marriage from being required to wed same-sex couples. The Scottish Government have asked the Westminister government to slightly amend the Equality Act so that celebrants who have a religious objection to same-sex marriage even though their Church supports it, will be able to refuse same-sex couples on faith grounds. That is precisely what 93% of respondents to last year’s consultation on same-sex marriage agreed should happen: individual religious celebrants should not be required to solemnise same sex marriage.
The Church of Scotland, as the Reverend Fothergil should know as well as I do, takes a strong position on individual conscience, as its guide to marriage makes clear. In all cases, if the minister of the kirk decides it is not within their conscience to wed a couple, the minister’s decision is final – but not binding on any other minister.
For a Christian, the decision to reject all same-sex couples might be considered morally invalid, as immoral as ruling that women should not speak in church just because the Bible marginalises women. But the law and the Kirk and the tradition of centuries protect a minister’s right to make that decision.
And in any case if Reverend Fothergil thinks about it for more than a few minutes, why would a couple want to spoil the happiest day of their lives by having a minister girning away Ye’re all damned? Especially not when a faithful same-sex couple, regular in kirk attendance, who want to be married according to their Presbyterian faith will certainly be able to find a minister who does regard it as within her or his conscience to marry them.
The latest release from the rather oddly-named Scotland for Marriage campaign is a sweet, little video explaining that people with pink boxes on their heads can only marry people with blue boxes on their heads because that’s the way it’s always been.
Scotland for Marriage want to hold a referendum about lifting the ban on same-sex marriage, because we just don’t have enough referendums in Scotland.
There has never been a referendum on basic human rights in the UK, and I hope there never will be. While I trust that the people of Scotland would vote for human rights – poll after poll confirms that two-thirds of Scots support same-sex couples having the freedom to marry – it would set an appalling precedent. What’s next: vote for whether Catholics can get married since Scotland is a majority Presbyterian country?