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.
In your letter on Scotland on Sunday, 11th December 2011 (two days after the equal marriage consultation closed) you say “I still hope some sort of compromise can be reached that might enable Christians of genuinely held but differing convictions to continue to worship together.”
There is. It’s the perfect compromise, and one I’m pretty hopeful will be enacted by the Scottish government.
At the moment, there’s a legal ban on all same-sex marriages, and a legal ban on all religious solemnisations of same-sex marriages in places of worship. This is fundamentally against freedom of religion.
The probable result of the recent consultation will be to lift these legal bans, which will allow same-sex couples who wish to marry to get married, and will allow churches and pastors who wish to marry same-sex couples, to do so. No church and no minister of religion will be forced to do so.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will doubtless argue it through to the bitter end and will come out on one side or the other – some ministers will wish to treat their parishioners equally, others will wish to discriminate, others yet will want to have no lesbian or gay or transgender parishioners at all, and bisexual parishioners only if they’re in the closet and in mixed-sex marriage. That isn’t the concern of government, and shouldn’t be.
You and your other homophobic friends will gather together and decide how important it is to you to oppose the idea that God loves everybody equally, and take your stand where you see fit. My personal thinking is that it would be advisable for you to argue for ministers in the Church of Scotland to have a personal right of refusal to wed same-sex couples, and thus put yourself on the moral high ground of religious freedom. If you argue that regardless of conscience, a minister must be forced to deny marriage to parishioners based on sexual orientation and gender identity, you are arguing against compromise and for a continuing fight – you cannot expect ministers to go against their conscience to make you happy forever.
PS See also: “Allowing same-sex couples to marry is said to be an attack on religious freedom! The line is consistently pushed that if it is legal for religious organisations and ministers of religion to celebrate the marriage of a same-sex couple, it will become illegal to refuse to do so. There is no instance of this ever happening: the fears that it might seem to derive from T H White’s totalitarian anthill, ‘Everything not forbidden is compulsory’.” What to expect from the anti-gay marriage brigade