Episcopal Church considers changing stance on gay marriages

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THE head of Scotland’s Episcopal Church has launched a veiled attack on the opposition from senior Catholics to same-sex marriage, claiming it raises “significant issues” about the “relationship between church and state”.

In an intervention that shows the deepening split in Scotland’s faith communities over the issue, the Most Rev David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, defends the SNP government’s “right” to give full legal status to gay wedding ceremonies.

Writing in The Scotsman today, Rev Chillingworth, who is also the Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, hints that his church may “consider changing our canonical definition of marriage”.

His comments come after a series of high-profile attacks on the Scottish Government’s consultation on same-sex marriage from the Catholic Church, which has backed a call from former SNP leader Gordon Wilson for a referendum on the issue, as well as sending out 100,000 protest cards to parishioners. Rev Chillingworth also dismissed suggestions from opponents of gay marriage that the Scottish Government “does not have a mandate” to change the law and said it was clear there would be an “opt-out” for churches not wanting to conduct same-sex marriages.

He also invoked Jesus, who he said “spent time with people who didn’t fit the conventional pattern” who were “deemed unacceptable by others”.

Rev Chillingworth writes: “The consultation period is very short. Among the things we shall say will be that if – and it’s a big if – we were to consider changing our canonical definition of marriage, that would require a two-year process in our General Synod, the outcome of which could not be predicted with any certainty.

“It seems to me that some of the points being made – particularly comments from our ecumenical partners in the Catholic Church – raise significant issues about how we understand the relationship between church and state. They also raise important questions about the nature of the church itself.

“If, following the consultation period, the Scottish Government and parliament feel that they should legislate in this way, I believe that it is their right to do so.

“It is clear that there would be an ‘opt-out’ protection for those who cannot accept this. Churches and faith groups would have to decide whether they wished to use or to stand outside the provisions of such legislation.The suggestion has been made that the Scottish Government does not have a mandate to introduce legislation which is of such fundamental significance for our society.

“Jesus did not call the church into being as a citadel of orthodoxy. He was constantly criticised because he spent time with people who didn’t fit the conventional patterns and were deemed unacceptable by others.”

Rev Chillingworth goes on to say that the consultation represents a challenge “to think seriously about our society, its values and its patterns of family life.” He writes: “The suggestion has been made that the Scottish Government does not have a mandate to introduce legislation which is of such fundamental significance for our society.

“The implication is that these are ‘non-negotiable’ areas. If the Scottish Government was proposing to legislate to enshrine in law discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, colour or race, I would publicly oppose their moral right to do so. But that is not the nature of these consultation proposals.”

However, Peter Kearney, media director of the Catholic Church in Scotland, defended the right to comment on “contentious and potentially divisive” plans to allow gay marriage.

He said: “Church and state should be separate but every individual and organisation in society has a right to express a view on the political process especially when its proposals are contentious and potentially divisive.

“The consultation process has many flaws. A much wider public debate is needed. This issue cannot amount to the exchange of documents by a very few participants.”