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Expert Reaction: Historic Scottish Episcopal Church ruling on same-sex marriage

Posted on 8 June 2017

Professor Paul Johnson, from the University of York’s Department of Sociology, discusses the Scottish Episcopal Church vote on permitting the marriage of same-sex couples in church.

wedding rings (credit: Mohd Shukry Othman, Flickr)

Professor Johnson said: “Today’s decision of the Scottish Episcopal Church to permit its clergy to solemnize the marriages of same-sex couples is historic. Rejecting claims by some of its members that the concept of “equality” was being used to promote “sexual anarchy” and deny “orthodox” belief, the General Synod approved an amendment to Canon 31 of its Code of Canons that removes the definition of marriage as a “physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman”.

“As well as amending its Canon on holy matrimony to remove the limitation of marriage being between a man and a woman, the Scottish Episcopal Church has introduced strong protections for those who oppose same-sex marriage. One key protection is that no cleric of the Church may be obliged to conduct a same-sex marriage if doing so would be “against their conscience”.

Significant decision

“The decision of the Scottish Episcopal Church is of great significance. Not only is it now at odds with its close neighbours, the Church of England and the Church in Wales – that remain opposed to same-sex marriage – but its approach is in contradiction with those other provinces and churches that, together with the Scottish Episcopal Church, make up the 80 million strong membership of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“The Scottish Episcopal Church could face “sanctions” by the Anglican Communion for its decision. When the Episcopal Church in the United States took the same decision it was effectively excluded by the Primates of the Anglican Communion from participating in the business of the Communion for a period of three years.

Hope for future

“In ending one of the most odious forms of discrimination against gay people, the Scottish Episcopal Church has made the full and frank statement that same-sex relationships are of equal worth to opposite-sex relationships. That statement will reverberate in the Anglican Communion and hopefully encourage other member churches, including the Church of England, to take the same decision.”

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