Same-Sex Marriage and the Churches

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and now the Church of Scotland have come out against same-sex marriages, and they consider civil partnerships quite sufficient. Neither denomination is established and the Scottish Parliament will merely listen to their views - along with many others on both sides of opinion. Of the countries of the United Kingdom only England has an established church, the Church of England.

The Church of England has a parliament called the General Synod whose members, some 467 bishops, clergy and laity, meet in Westminster and York. A Measure of Synod has the same status as an Act of Parliament.

It will have been decided by Synod, sent to the Ecclesiastical Committee of the Commons and Lords which can only accept or reject it, then to The Queen before it is promulged in Synod. Misdemeanours around a city centre cathedral, for instance, are likely to be brought to a magistrates’ court under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure. I was a magistrate in a cathedral city.

When I was a member of the General Synod it was widely held that matters of morals and ethics were first debated by the General Synod before being taken up by the Houses of Parliament. Such topics as abortions, freemasonry, the bomb, Sunday shopping hours, HIV/AIDS and homosexuality are examples.

But homosexuality has proven difficult. In 1987 a General Synod debate downgraded homosexuality from a sin to ‘falling short of the ideal’. But within days Clause 28 was being plotted by the Thatcher Government in a misunderstanding of what General Synod had discussed.

The early years of New Labour saw the arrival of same sex civil partnerships, which had not been debated by Synod. To keep the Church of England out of the debate the legislation that emerged cleverly prohibited civil partnership ceremonies taking place in churches. In due course the Church of England has come to terms with civil partnerships, and allows its clergy to tie that knot. Indeed there are plans to allow ceremonies in church, but that debate continues.

It seems that on homosexuality, both Holyrood and Westminster parliaments are overriding the slow pace of the churches - but my reading of history shows they eventually catch up with reason. The churches are rapidly losing their grip on society as church attendance continues to fall.