Signing the Petition

writing-877745Earlier this week when it was fresh and new, I signed the petition which is being presented to the Scottish Parliament which urges the Scottish Government to amend the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 to allow two persons of the same sex to register a civil marriage and a religious marriage if the relevant religious body consents.

It is something which directly affects my ministry. The existance of Civil Partnerships has been a big step forward. They have given a whole new set of images to society of what gay people are like. (Before them, the images that were fixed in the public mind were all about gay people’s supposed “lifestyle” of clubbing, drugs and promiscuity – things that straight people apparently don’t indulge in).

However, Civil Partnership is not Marriage and that inequality is discrimination.

Its important – I’ve had people approach me asking me whether I can do a legal ceremony for them and I’ve had to say that though I’d like to, the law doesn’t allow me to do so. Indeed, the current law specifically forbids people from registering Civil Partnerships in church or using any religious expression in their legal ceremony. What that does is imply that gay people can never be as holy as straight people. And the ugly consequences of that kind of prejudice are visible in all kinds of places, not least in the suicide statistics of young men.

There is going to be opposition to the campaign for Equal Marriage. You can see the so called Christian Institute gearing up for battle here. Beware, that link contains their usual lies – including “Family campaigners have warned that any such change would undermine the status of marriage.” I disagree with that. It is a silly argument to make to suggest that people are attempting to erode something valuable simply by asking to have access to it. It seems to me that the opposite is true. By asking for equality, gay people are giving a rather high status to married life.

Anyway, one can sign the petition online on the Scottish Parliament’s dedicated website. It only takes a minute or two. I note with some satisfaction that there are a good proportion of the signatures on it whom I recognise as people connected with St Mary’s. There is room for plenty more names though.

[Note that right as of this moment, the Scottish Parliament’s website seems to be having its troubles – hopefully it will be fixed later in the day]


  1. …. another time when I hate that I can’t vote here.

    (still, with the inauguration only 4 days away, my frustration is mitigated)

  2. Elizabeth says

    Thanks for the link, Kelvin. I didn’t realise the petition existed! (that’s what comes of having one’s head buried in books) I agree this is an important step forward and will spread the news!

  3. Kelvin says

    Kimberly – it is possible for anyone in the world to sign the petition. Although you are not a voter, you are affected by it as someone who lives in Scotland who might well be asked to conduct such a marriage. I see no reason why you should not sign it.

  4. I made a decision way back when that I would keep my name off all petitions until such time as I had permanent residency. Foolish, I suspect, but I’m so close now…

  5. Fair enough – hopefully it will not be long.

  6. The link is playing up again (or still), it seems. Will try again later.

  7. What would happen if a couple later divorce (civil) but their religion refuses to recognize the divorce. Would they still be legally religiously married?

  8. Different denominations (and indeed congregations) make different responses to divorce.

    In the Scottish Episcopal Church, clergy can, with the bishop’s permission, marry people in church who have been married before. We regularly do so.

    We make no distinction in cannon law between a former marriage in church and a former marriage conducted in a registry office. Marriage is marriage.

    Should the state allow churches to conduct same-sex marriages, the same rules would apply to everyone.

    A number of years ago, I stood up and asked at General Synod whether the provisions which we put in place to ensure that partners had some buffer of housing provision if a clergy person divorces and leaves the ministry also would apply to gay couples who had registered a Civil Partnership. I was assured that it would. I was congratulated by one of the bishops afterwards with the words, “Well done, Kelvin. You’ve managed to get the church to agree to gay divorce before you’ve got it to agree to accept gay marriage.”

  9. Before them, the images that were fixed in the public mind were all about gay people’s supposed “lifestyle” of clubbing, drugs and promiscuity
    I hope, if this goes through, that it won’t mean that you’ll stop attending The Swingin’ Sporran Discotheque and Grill. Your moves on the dance floor are legendary and would be greatly missed.

  10. I sympathise, but I hesitate. I would be much happier signing a petition to change the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to remove the prohibition on civil partnerships being solemnised in a religious building, and to accord clergy the status of ‘approved celebrants’ in the terms of the 1977 Marriage Act.

    This is because I have a difficulty about discarding the distinction between civil partnerships and marriage. They share many characteristics, save one: the fact that marriage, as well as fostering love, mutual support and so forth, is also open to the procreation and nurturing of children. I’m aware that some couples either cannot or do not wish to have children, and that many gay couples adopt.

    But if you’ve looked into the eyes of a child who is flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, you know that you are a co-creator with God, and you have glimpsed something of the awesome, unfathomable mystery of Being. No blurring of the terminology, or no legislative measures can possibly change that.

    I realise that this comment will be unwelcome, but that is where I am now. I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

  11. Elizabeth says

    I don’t have children, adopted or otherwise, so I can’t speak from experience, but I do think that this argument about the distinction between ‘partnership’ and ‘marriage’ is problematic in two ways. One, it sets up a distinction between parents who adopt, and parents whose children are their biological offspring (to say nothing of more complex situations which has perhaps involved egg or sperm donors, etc). This won’t do. What then, is the distinction between a gay couple adopting and a straight couple adopting? Would a lesbian couple who have a ‘biological’ child be more ‘married’ than a straight couple who adopt? Secondly, I think this also sets up a hierarchy between the creativity of parenting and other kinds of creativity that benefits the human community. I rejoice with couples who have children – how wonderful! But I also rejoice with couples who exercise radical hospitality, giving of themselves in all kinds of ways – ways that benefit the human community in spectacularly creative ways – teaching, inventing, curing and caring, surely this diversity is more reflective of God’s creativity than limiting the specialness of a couple’s creativity to biological reproduction?

  12. Far from being unwelcome, Eamonn, your comment is very welcome. However, I’m far from persuaded that marriage and childbearing are so inextricably linked.

    Presumably, you are aware that straight couples who are not married are able to have children too?

    There are plenty of marriages which are not open to the procreation and rearing of children and the church has not been terribly quick to demand a seperate legal status for such couples.

    Are such marriages less sacramental than those where children are a possiblity? It would be a brave priest who taught that they were.

    One of the questions for the church is whether or not Christians can regard the love between a gay couple as sacramental in the same way that we regard [straight] married love as sacramental. In other words do gay couples have the potential to enhance what we know of the love of God in the same way that straight marriages have.

    Is it possible to believe that gay couples can exhibit to the world in their partnership an outward sign of God’s grace?

    If they can, that is much closer to the way that our church has described marriage than any definition about having children.

  13. Eamon, I whole heartedly welcome the chance to engage with an open minded opponent.

    If the changes you propose to the Civil Partnership and Marriage Acts were to come to pass what then would be the difference between the two institutions? It would surely only be the name and the fact that they cater for same sex and opposite sex couples, respectively.

    I struggle with your distinction between the two legal frameworks. Firstly I don’t accept that a religious definition of the word marriage, such as yours, should have legal character. By all means attach to it any religious significance you care to, however, marriage is a firmly established secular legal institution in our society, in fact more than half of all marriages are “civil” marriages. I don’t see why people in a multi-belief society (including atheists like myself) should be compelled by force of law to share your mental distinction.

    Secondly the marriage as a child rearing institution argument is fatally flawed for reasons already pointed out, not least by yourself. There are lots of points I could make in this regard but I’ll make just one for the moment. I heard something during a talk from a volunteer from Parents Enquiry, a helpline for parents with gay children, that your “flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone” comment reminded me of. The volunteer, a woman with a grown up [adopted] son, relayed the occasion when she was counselling a parent of a gay child over the phone and the parent interjected that the volunteer wouldn’t understand how she felt because her son wasn’t flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. It was palpable from her demeanour how hurtful she had found this comment. She had retorted to the parent “but he’s heart of my heart”. I think that’s how most same sex couples who want to get married or civilly partnered feel about each other & their children (if applicable). Your “distinction” fails the “heart of my heart” test. We should seize the opportunity as soon as possible of, as the Spanish Prime Minister put it, “enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbours, our co-workers, our friends, our families…”. Don’t you agree?

    My solution, initially at least, would be firstly to open up civil partnerships and marriage to couples of any gender combination. The two institutions would become one, with only a semantic difference remaining. Secondly religious marriage would be removed from statute and become an entirely voluntary affair. No legal prohibition nor sanction of religious solemnisation of either marriages or civil partnerships should exist.

    p.s. I stumbled onto this blog via a google search for “same sex marriage in Scotland”. Really pleased to see a lively discussion on this topic in a somewhat alien community to this wandering atheist homosexual. Pleased to meet your acquaintance everyone ^^b

  14. Amen and amen.

    (and thanks Alan for offering both civility and bravery as you stumble into a new world.)

  15. Elizabeth – I, too, rejoice in everything that contributes to human flourishing, and I wasn’t intending to limit ‘the specialness of a couple’s creativity to biological reproduction’. But I’m uneasy about anything that places marriage, with its central (even if not sole) purpose of birthing and nurturing children, on the same level as other kinds of creativity. Of course, like any other human enterprise it can work well or badly, can be enriching or diminishing for both parents and children. I’m not one of those who believe that recognising and cherishing gay people and their right to form partnerships undermines marriage. But much of the discourse around this issue makes married people feel that their indispensable contribution to society as child-rearers is regarded with less seriousness than it merits. I continue to believe that procreation is systemic in marriage in a way in which it is not in other covenanted relationships. And, as the father of a gay son, I would be the last to be indifferent to the potential pain of that loss.

    Kelvin – I’m not brave enough as a priest to tell couples whose ‘marriages…are not open to the procreation and rearing of children’ that their marriage is ‘less sacramental’. And I believe strongly that ‘gay couples have the potential to enhance what we know of the love of God in the same way that straight marriages have’, which is why I hope that the Churches will soon evolve an appropriate liturgy for blessing gay partnerships.

    Nevertheless, if I were accompanying a heterosexual couple preparing for marriage, and it emerged in the conversation that they had set their faces from the outset against having children, I would feel it was my pastoral duty to encourage them to reflect on whether their marriage was likely to achieve its full flourishing (taking into account, of course, economic factors, state of health, etc.). It’s worth noting, indeed, that in the Roman Catholic Church the decision resolutely to exclude children would be a factor in the grant of an annulment, if such were sought.

    Alan – welcome to the strange world of Episcopalian angst. You’ve set me thinking that there would be a lot to be said for separating the contractual and sacramental aspects of marriage or partnership by doing as they do in secular France, where couples, religious or not, have first to go through a civil ceremony, and then can have their marriage blessed in church if they wish.

    Apologies for the length of this response and thank you for your thoughtful and courteous comments.

  16. Eamonn,

    Would you encourage couples beyond the age of child bearing or where one was incapable of having children (e.g., hysterectomy on the part of the woman) to reconsider?

    I think of a recent case in Florida. A couple (unmarried and not capable of being biological parents) have been foster parents for four years to two brothers put in their care by the state. The two brothers had had abusive and neglectful birth parents; the elder aged 4 when removed did not speak, both were ill. The couple has taken care of them for several years and are now seeking to formalize the relationship by having one of them adopt the boys because it is in the best interest of the boys. The court has agreed (though the state has appealed). has some more details. If that couple sought to be married, would you recommend against it on the grounds they aren’t capable of being biological parents?

  17. Eamonn says

    No to both questions, Erp. This was the point of my including in parenthesis the reference to issues like state of health, which I would extend to embrace the kinds of case you mention. Ultimately, the guiding principle is what is most loving and pastorally appropriate for the particular situation.

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