Equal Marriage – Questions people haven’t thought of #1

Here’s one for church folk and any passing ethicist.

Suppose a couple get a civil partnership and they then have a service of blessing in an Episcopal Church – rings, promises, nuptial mass, the whole enchilada, with lovely prayers drawn from the Scottish Episcopal marriage liturgy. (As happens).

Supposing that is all done with and then suddenly the government come along and offer to make those who have civil partnerships married at the stroke of a pen.

What is the moral difference between that and a straight couple getting married in church?

[My interest in this question is to see whether the answers divide between people who say, “There’s no difference, therefore same-sex couples don’t need marriage” and those who say, “There’s no difference, so we should stop shilly-shallying about and wed same-sex couples on the same basis as every else.”]

Furthermore, might couples expect to go through another ceremony to mark this change of status or not?


  1. As I see Scottish Law, all partnerships are registered by the Civil Authorities. In the case of Glasgow you have to go to Martha Street and fill in the appropriate paperwork. All varieties of couples can have a civil partnership officiated by a Civil Registrar.

    However only Man-Woman partnerships can be solomnised in a religious setting. Kelvin, you should be allowed to solomnise all partnerships (Man-Woman, Man-Man, Woman-Woman) in St Mary’s.

  2. william says

    Do we mean a ‘moral difference’ in the sight of God, or in the eyes of a nation at a particular point in history, or in the understanding of practising homosexuals, or in the perspective of a christian church?
    Without defining the audience ‘moral difference’ is a slippery term!

  3. In this case, all that I’m interested in is what the Scottish Episcopal Church thinks it is doing.

  4. How does the SEC consider opposite sex couples who get a civil marriage and then years later want something in church?

    Now from my initial humanist point of view there has been no difference in moral status between a civil partnership, a civil marriage, or exchanging equivalent promises in cases where a legal ceremony is not possible (e.g., slaves in times past or same sex couples in many places) though there are legal differences.

  5. The SEC regards couples who get married in a civil ceremony and couples who get married in a religious ceremony as being equally married. There is no distinction between them

    This is, I think, different to the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.

    • If the SEC opts out of the same-sex marriage legislation, will it recognise civilly-wed same-sex couples as being married? If not, then the hypothetical same-sex couple are not married in the eyes of the church. If the SEC decides to recognise same-sex marriages but won’t perform them, there is no difference and we should stop messing around.

      I imagine people going from civil partnership to marriage will make as much or as little of a big deal of it as they like.

  6. Rosemary Hannah says

    For me the question is intent – if the couple intend to be married but are denied by a civil authority, they are married in the eyes of God. However it is very plain that currently the law wishes to consider they are NOT married, and it is a hard thing indeed to keep your end up against the law. Therefore they ‘need’ to be married to affirm to themselves and the society that they are indeed married.

    The question is ‘what makes a marriage: set promises made according to form: the understanding between the two marrying: the understanding of society of what marriage is.’ In practice it is very hard indeed to have a marriage without all three components.

    CU was designed to have no promises, and no understanding by society that it was marriage. Compassionate registrars saw at once that the former was impossible. Generally, society has not fully embraced the idea that the latter is fully true. They usually think it is just near enough. Some people then think it is near enough to consider it marriage, and others that it is quite near enough, thank you. Hence those pressing for equal marriage – to make it clear once and for all.

    • Having been vexed by this question myself, I think Rosemary is onto something. After all, the ministers of marriage are the couple. I have long advocated that couples denied marriage “for fear of the religious authorities” exchange their vows and present themselves at the altar rail during Benediction of the MBS for a guerilla blessing.

  7. Rosemary Hannah says

    Interestingly, the church is still in places reluctant to marry some divorcees (where, for instance a new relationship has been formed before the marriage ended, and the new relationship killed the old) but once civilly married – married they are.

  8. Rosemary Hannah says

    @william. I am agnostic on the question of whether people whose adultery caused the end of an earlier marriage are married in the eyes of God, if that is what you are asking. It is an issue on which I have to admit I am incapable of dispassion. Maybe they are. God is endlessly forgiving and compassionate. It will hardly be news to anybody that I do not always rise to God’s standards.

    I am sure that faithful gay couples who consider themselves married and have taken all the legal steps they can to be as-close-to-married ARE married in the eyes of God, but this latter belief will hardly come as news to those who know me and my family.

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