Consultation on Civil Partnerships and Same-Sex Marriage

This week the Scottish Government’s consultation on civil partnerships and same-sex marriage comes to a close. The Scottish Episcopal Church’s response has been prepared by the Faith and Order Board which Bishop Gregor convenes and that will be published some time in the next few days. It would be surprising if that formal response contained anything new and anything other than the usual fig-leaf response which says things which appear negative because we are told that we don’t have a formal liturgy for marrying such couples and because the General Synod has never given a moment of debate in all its existence to the question at hand.

Individuals and groups are encouraged to respond to this consultation and can do so a little more creatively if they wish. It is already emerging that it is one of the consultations which has attracted a huge response.

Last month, the Vestry took the decision to make a response to this consultation but decided that they wanted to let the congregation know about that before doing so. This week the Vestry will be making a response to this consultation.

One or two people have asked me how the Vestry can respond to this when there will be different views within the congregation. I think that it is very much those different views which the government are looking to capture at this point in time. It is clear that the congregation includes quite a lot of people who want the government to legislate for change. After all, quite a few people from St Mary’s were involved in collecting signatures for the petition which was presented on this subject in the last parliament. However it would surprising if there were not those who take a different view. (We do diversity at St Mary’s, even on this topic!) After all, I was very much against opening up marriage to same-sex couples until just a few years ago. It was only after having blessed a couple of couples entering Civil Partnerships that my own view changed. I realised then that what those couples were doing was creating for themselves and their families and friends a ceremony that I already knew very well indeed, having worked through it with countless straight couples before. I also realised that people were yearning for something sacramental. That’s why it is so inadequate and so hurtful for the churches to respond to such couples with the view that they can have something like a marriage but not called a marriage and which the church is squeamish about naming as something which can convey the grace of God.

I’ve sent Vestry members a paper setting out what I think the terms can be in which we can respond. I thought it might be helpful to publish a few of the comments that I’ve made to the vestry here too so that people know the nature of what is being attempted. It also might be helpful when thinking about responding to other consultations and may also be helpful to others further afield.

What I’ve said to the Vestry includes the following points:

  • The aim is to make a response to a consultation paper, not to set policy for the congregation.
  • No member of the Vestry is required to hold or express any view other than their own either before or after next Monday’s meeting on any of the questions raised by the consultation. However all Vestry members are expected to support publicly the decision made at the last meeting to make a congregational response.
  • The nature of a consultation response from an organisation is that it is very likely that there will not be unanimity of view either in the congregation or in the Vestry. The government want to know this. For this reason, it is very likely that our response to some questions might be in the form, “Some of us think X whilst others think Y.” or “We have a number of different views about this in the congregation but believe the dominant view to be Z” or “Like most religious groups we have a diversity of opinion on this matter and cannot come to a mind” or “Whilst a majority of us think X, some of us think Y and we will need to seek ways in which to manage these differences.”
  • To some questions, we might respond with a series of quotes from different people showing a range of opinion.
  • The object of the exercise is to reflect views to Government so that the Government has the best possible chance of legislating in a way that the churches and faith organisations can work most easily with. The point of this exercise is not to come to unity of agreement on every point.
  • Vestry members may wish to seek out members of the congregation who are in marriages and civil partnerships in order to hear their views. The congregation includes people who are cohabiting, people who are in civil partnerships, people who are in opposite sex marriage and people who are in same-sex marriage (entered into abroad). It also, of course, includes many single people who will also have views about these institutions.

We’ve been printing the website for the government consultation paper on the pew notes for a couple of weeks and also a simpler response form that the Equality Network have set up to make it easier for people to make responses.

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