Kirk ignores opt-in to same-sex union

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You report (13 September) that the Church of Scotland might cease altogether to conduct legally recognised marriages in order to avoid being forced by a court to conduct same-sex marriages.

The Scottish same-sex marriage legislation includes clear and robust laws that a religious body can only conduct same-sex marriages if it first opts in by applying to do so to the General Registrar. Unless and until the Kirk chooses to do that, through its own decision-making processes, none of its ministers will be legally able to conduct same-sex marriages, even if they individually want to.

Equality law is being amended at the same time to eliminate any possibility of legal challenge to any religious body that chooses not to conduct same-sex marriages.

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to religious freedom, provides further protection.

All public bodies in Scotland, including the Scottish Government, and the courts in interpreting Scottish legislation, are bound by the convention.

They cannot place any requirement on a religious body to conduct same-sex marriages against the doctrine of that body, because that would breach Article 9.

Unsurprisingly, in 12 years of legal same-sex marriage in our European neighbour countries, which are also bound by the convention, no religious body has ever been placed under any such obligation.

Religious freedom should apply to both religious bodies that oppose same-sex marriage and religious bodies that support it. There are several religious bodies in Scotland waiting to start same-sex marriages, once the legislation passes.

But the Kirk can rest assured that it will be free to choose, in its own way and in its own time – whether that be a decade or a century after the bill passes, or never – whether and when to introduce same-sex marriage.

Tim Hopkins

Equality Network

Bernard Street

Edinburgh

It is wrong for Rev Alan Hamilton to give the impression that the Church of Scotland may cease to conduct marriage services; it is doubly wrong to link this possibility with future putative court cases and the loss of scarce financial resources.

The Church of Scotland should proclaim its calling to continue to represent nearly 2,000 years of Christian understanding of marriage as elemental participation in the means and process of existence.

Such negativity and meanness of spirit contradicts the spiritual power and joyful dynamic of Christian weddings.

(Rev Dr) Robert
Anderson

Blackburn & Seafield Church

MacDonald Gardens

Blackburn

The tail of anti-gay activists entrenched in its central committees is in danger of wagging the Church of Scotland dog over the question of same-sex marriage.

A very large number of the parish clergy like me support the move, and the laity reflects the views of the general public, which polls show to be three to one in favour.

Our wily First Minister Alex Salmond would not have backed this controversial issue were he not convinced that it was the will of the vast majority in Scotland.

There is not the slightest chance of the Kirk ceasing to conduct the marriages of its people and the outrageous suggestion that it might do so is pure scaremongering.

And there will be “clear and robust” protection of the kind already in place in Europe, so the claim that this long overdue reform is a threat to religious liberty is absurd.

(Rev Dr) John 
Cameron

Howard Place

St Andrews

The Scottish same-sex marriage bill currently being scrutinised by MSPs has been through a lengthy consultation process over a period of two years.

In that time the Scottish Government has clearly listened to the concerns of those religious organisations that do not wish to carry out same-sex marriage and has ensured that there are clear and robust laws to protect them.

This is right and proper.

It is not for Stonewall Scotland or any other organisation to tell, for example, the Kirk that it must carry out same-sex unions.

Unless the Kirk chooses to opt in to the system, through its own process of deliberation and prayer, none of its ministers will be legally able to carry out same-sex marriages even if individual ministers wanted to.

The Scottish Government has asked the UK government to make amendments to equality legislation to ensure the possibility of any legal challenge to a religious body that chooses not to conduct same-sex marriage is eliminated.

Some of those religious bodies opposed to the bill have stated that they will face threats under European legislation. This is not true.

They will be more than protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and it is worth noting that of the nine countries where same-sex marriage has been legal for 12 years not one religious body has ever been forced to carry out same-marriage against its wishes.

The Kirk, and other religious bodies, should be assured that the measures proposed in the Scottish bill and in existing European law will more than protect them.

It should also be noted that Stonewall Scotland would never support any case which attempted to compel the Kirk or any other religious body who did not wish to opt in to do so.

This bill has got the balance of freedom of speech and religious freedom right in that it allows those religious and belief bodies who do wish to opt in the freedom to do so, while more than protecting those who do not.

Colin Macfarlane

Stonewall Scotland

Mansfield Place

Edinburgh

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