Five Years Ago

I was reminded yesterday that it is five years since St Mary’s hosted its first Civil Partnership Blessing. So, congratulations to Colin and Robbie pictured above.

Theirs was not the first such ceremony that I officiated at but it was the first in the building and the fifth anniversary of that is worth marking with a big alleluia.

It is perhaps worth recording the process by which we decided to proceed with this ceremony. I had been approached some time before to discuss whether or not I would conduct such a ceremony. As I’d done one already, that was easy to answer – I agreed that I would do it. The question was whether St Mary’s was ready to host such a celebration.

This is what I remember happening.

It seemed to me that it was important to work out whether the Vestry were on board with this. It is the Vestry who share the responsibility of what happens in a Scottish Episcopal Church with the Rector. (I’m the Rector as well as being the Provost). Usually, I’ll just ask a Vestry what they think. Often we work towards consensus, sometimes we agree to vote about something if we need to make a decision with which some people disagree. In this case I went a bit further – in this case I outlined the question at a Vestry meeting and then asked them all to write to me to tell me whether they thought we should proceed. This allowed people to take some time and think about it. In the event, the Vestry members all wrote to me saying that they believed that St Mary’s should go ahead. I was thus able to say to Robbie and Colin that we would be delighted to welcome them and their families and friends to celebrate their special day.

“Ah, but what about the bishop?!!!” I hear you splutter.

Well, I told the bishop at the time telling him what I had been asked to do. He asked me what the Vestry thought and I produced the sheaf of letters from the Vestry spelling out what they thought and I told him that I was going to take the service. His response was “Very well then. I think you should do it.”

It is worth also saying that when I reported to him that I was first going to take such a ceremony, his response was, “Well then, I’ll give you my permission to do it then.”

“But Father, I didn’t ask your permission, I’m going to do it anyway” I said, to which his response was, “Well, you are getting my permission and you are getting it in writing – it is important that you have it”. (I still have the email).

And thus, these things began and I’ve been happy to advertise that we do them since. Then it seemed remarkable. Now it seems special but in the same was that every wedding day is special. In the last five years there has been maybe one ceremony a year either in St Mary’s or elsewhere. (The first one I conducted was at the chapel of the University of Glasgow).

In a few week’s time, I’ll be doing another one and this time there is something different. The innovation this time is that the couple can be pretty sure that by registering their civil partnership (which I’ll be blessing) they will end up being actually married as the new laws coming to Scotland should mean that they can convert their relationship to the status of a marriage by simply filling in a form in due course.

The move towards marriage equality is a long drawn out journey of little steps. I’m proud to have shared that journey with those brave enoug to pledge their love to one another in public.



  1. Augur Pearce says

    I’m interested to know your take on ‘conversion’ (of a CP to a marriage).

    There seem likely to be two types of couple: (a) those who regarded their CP as a marriage in the sight of heaven, whatever the law might say and regardless of the fact that it couldn’t be formed on religious premises, and (b) those for whom a CP was always second-best: better than nothing because of the material advantages it brought but lacking the name, the content, and the religious beginning that a marriage ought to have. Those in category (b) would point out that the blessings you’ve performed in Glasgow (since the law there hasn’t yet changed) have not actually brought any CP into being; they merely celebrated what had already come into being in a secular context. To my mind the plight of category (b) couples was one of the strongest arguments for equal marriage.

    For category (a) couples, conversion is a legal formality, allowing their existing married status to be acknowledged by the law and on official forms. All they want is an administrative procedure. Your blog post seems to take that view. But category (b) couples agree with the law that they are not yet married. They want to form a new bond rather than ‘convert’ an existing one; and their wedding (after the legislation takes effect) will be infinitely more important than their earlier CP ceremony. The Scottish Bill will cater for this group (though the English Act will not), and it is important that the churches do the same. Do you agree?

  2. I think that couples differ. Some gay couples I know have gone through a number different recognitions and different ceremonies at different times in their life together, each time taking advantage of whatever social recognition that was available.

    One might note in passing that the “plight” of Category B couples is shared with every heterosexual couple married in France, where whatever goes on in church has no bearing on the legal status of the couple and does not legally bring the marriage into being.

    I don’t think I know any couples who have gone through a public ceremony to mark a civil partnership who want to come back to church or registry office at any time in the future to have a “proper” wedding. So far as I know, everyone in a Civil Partnership that I know who wants to be wed is planning on simple legal conversion.

    If presented with Category B couples, I might have to think about it, but I don’t think I know them yet.

    In fact, I don’t think that it is quite so clear cut as category A and category B couples. I think that generally, couples desiring public ceremonies in church have been quite clear that what they have falls short of what they desire but that they will have the best that is on offer at the moment, which inevitably attracts the language and traditions of what we know as a wedding day whilst hoping that one day equality will be what is on offer, which they will enter into in the simplest way possible once it is available.

    However, obviously I don’t speak for everyone. Straight couples sometimes devise multiple forms of recognition at different times – quiet civil marriage before a birth because money is tight and joyful “renewal of vows” style service at in church on a significant anniversary some years later, is not unknown. (“I want the wedding I never had….” etc)

    I guess we can expect gay couples to be rather like them and look for celebrations that are in tune with how they feel about their relationship in its social context.

  3. Congratulations, Kelvin, on following your own conscience in this matter – as well as receiving the blessing of the Church through your Bishop. I do believe that we need – even on matters of justice – to be seen to obey the authorities set over us, in this case the diocesan Bishop. Congratulations to the happy couple!

  4. Susan Sheppard Hedges says

    Congratulations to Colin and Robbie, and to you, and to St. Mary’s! It all sounds so exciting for Scotland. Would that the US would do so!

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