Gay marriage is back in the news as the Scottish Episcopal Church prepares to debate whether to allow same sex marriage in its churches – possibly making it the first to do so in the UK. Michael Alexander reports.
It is a vote which could put the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) at odds with the Church of England.
The SEC’s General Synod is to vote next week on whether to change its laws to allow same-sex church weddings – a move which could invite de facto sanctions by the international Anglican communion.
However, the SEC was at pains to point out on Thursday that a recent national newspaper headline was “completely misleading” when it reported as a matter of fact that the church is the first in the UK to hold gay marriages, and that Episcopalians are to lead the way with same sex ceremonies within months.
The reason, a Scottish Episcopal Church spokesperson said, is because a vote had yet to be taken and a two thirds majority would be required.
“Next week’s General Synod will vote on the second – and final – reading of a proposed alteration to the church’s Canon on Marriage,” the spokesperson said.
“This proposal would remove the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“The voting process on this proposed canonical change will require a two thirds majority in each ‘house’ of Bishops, Clergy and Laity.
“If the vote is carried then those clergy who wish to opt in to conducting same sex weddings in church will have their names forwarded to the Registrar General and so the likely timescale will indeed be sometime in the autumn.”
The Right Rev Dr Nigel Peyton, Bishop of Brechin, added: “Our church has been carefully considering this proposal over the past couple of years and the debate at General Synod next Thursday will reflect this, and a range of views will be expressed The outcome of next week’s debate is not a foregone conclusion.”
Last week the Church of Scotland took a significant step towards allowing ministers to conduct same-sex marriages as it apologised for historical discrimination against lesbian and gay people.
The Kirk’s general assembly, meeting in Edinburgh, instructed officials to consider changes to church law that would allow ministers to preside over same-sex-marriage ceremonies and to research legal protection for any minister or deacon who refuses to officiate as a matter of conscience.
But despite strong support in the church’s governing body, it is likely to be several years before the first same-sex marriage is conducted by a Kirk minister. The necessary legal changes will first be brought to next year’s assembly.
The Kirk assembly called on leaders to “take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better”.
Some commissioners on the traditionalist wing of the church claimed the report was “biased” and “one-sided” but their arguments failed to carry the majority with them.
Speaking after the debate, Rev Scott Rennie, minister at Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, said he was “delighted” that the General Assembly had decided to move forward on the issue.
But Rev Mike Goss, clerk of Angus Presbytery who has been representing the traditionalist wing of the church in media interviews, said he and his colleagues were “frustrated” that the church was not coming together over the issue.
Mr Goss said he had “no difficulty apologising” to the gay community.
“If I have caused hurt to other folk unintentionally then I am more than happy to do it,” he added.
Support for same sex marriage is not shared by everyone however.
The worldwide Roman Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage. It’s view is based on Genesis 1:25–28: “God created man in his own image….male and female he created them… and God said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ ” and Genesis 2:24, ” a man shall be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Catholicism teaches that homosexual people must be treated with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every act or thought of hatred, violence, or persecution toward the homosexual is condemned.
Harsher opposition, meanwhile,has been expressed by independent church the Zion Praise Centre, set up and run by Pastor Joe Nwokoye, 58, in Kirkcaldy.
Nwokoye, who first hit the headlines in 2005 when former Raith Rovers and Rangers footballer Marvin Andrews claimed his prayers cured his injuries, became the laughing stock in 2014 after blaming gay marriage for the country’s floods and economic problems. He also claimed it was to blame for fires and people going missing and called for prison sentences.
But on Thursday, Pastor Joe stood by his opposition, telling The Courier: “Gay marriage is evil. That’s what the Bible says. There is no question about it. It says so in the Old and New Testament. It’s a fact. I will put my life in front of a firing squad because that is God speaking.
“John Knox will be turning in his grave knowing that Scotland has turned against the word of God.
“I don’t hate gay people. The Bible says they should be stoned to death – I am against that, because Jesus Christ is all about love. But I am completely against the gay lifestyle, which is against the word of God.”
Gay rights charity Stonewall Scotland, has said the majority of Scots support same-sex marriage and is sure that no reasonable person will take Nwokoye’s “mean-spirited” comments seriously.
Tim Hopkins, of the Equality Network, has expressed hope that future debates will be conducted in a way that recognise that churches have many LGBT members, and fully values them alongside other members.