The introduction of gay marriage may mean Catholics in Scotland will have to exchange their vows twice, once in a registry office and once at the altar, the new Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh has said.
Leo Cushley said the Catholic Church may have to consider the radical move to avoid legal challenges over the Church’s opposition to gay weddings.
The Bishop’s Conference of Scotland believes the Church may one day have to adopt the French model whereby religious couples are married in the eyes of the state in town halls, then exchange rings and receive a blessing in church.
Archbishop Cushley said in an interview: “We would always bless Christian marriages. It’s whether or not we would bless them in conjunction with the state. You are rolling two things together into one ceremony, the blessing of the union and then the state’s recognition of that union.
“There are Catholic countries like France, where they are two separate things and have been since the French Revolution and the separation of church and state.
“It’s not impossible to imagine such a thing here in the future.”
There are concerns in the Church that, in future, priests could face legal action if they refuse to marry a gay couple.
The law currently says priests act as an “authorised person”, recognised by the state to marry a couple in place of a registrar and to sign and certify the marriage on an official document.
The prospect of such a radical change was raised with MPs and peers earlier this year.
Professor Christopher McCrudden, a barrister, told Westminster’s joint committee on human rights that the same-sex marriage legislation could dismantle the legal basis on which 8,500 Catholic weddings are performed in Britain each year.
He argued that even if a gay couple or campaign group failed in their attempt to force the Church to conduct a gay wedding, the cost of defending their right may prompt the Catholic Church to no longer wish to carry out weddings for the state.
The Reverend Alan Hamilton, of the Church of Scotland’s legal questions committee, has warned MSPs of “deep concerns” about the legislation and said the Kirk may stop performing weddings to avoid legal actions.
The Scottish Government said yesterday: “Religious bodies will have to opt in if they wish to carry out same-sex marriage. We have agreed with the UK government that the Equality Act will be amended to provide further protection for celebrants.”
However, David Allison, a spokesman for gay rights group Outrage!, said: “The Catholic Church is thrusting up red herrings about the gay marriage bill because it has been made quite clear that they wouldn’t face legal action from couples.”