SAME-SEX couples could be married in the Scottish Episcopal
Church by 2017, following a vote in the Church's General Synod on
The Synod, meeting in St Paul's & St George's, Edinburgh,
voted to remove the opening section from Canon 31 on the
solemnisation of holy matrimony. This is the section that describes
marriage as the "physical, spiritual and mystical union" between a
man and a woman.
A conscience clause added to the canon will ensure that no
cleric is obliged to conduct a marriage ceremony that is against
his or her conscience. The Church will simply stay silent on
marriage, something made possible in the Scottish Episcopal Church
because its doctrine is expounded not in its canons but in its
liturgy. Modern Scottish liturgies place increasing emphasis on
marriage as revealing the love and character of God.
The decision to put this into process was not arrived at
lightly. The vote on Friday was the outcome of a measured,
meticulous and demanding process of four debates on four motions,
and was conducted - in public at least - with grace and
All voting was by secret ballot, and speculation that a "shy
Tory" vote, as in the General Election, might come into play did
not happen. The debate was seldom angry and at times very moving.
One bishop acknowledged the journey he had made as a result of the
Church's listening process, the Cascade Conversations; and another
declaring his own sexuality to be "ambiguous".
The full text of section one of Canon 31 reads: "The Doctrine of
this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual and mystical
union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of
heart, mind and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate
instituted of God." A comprehensive paper on the theology of
marriage from the Doctrine Committee was the basis for the six
options in front of Synod on which voting might ultimately take
Option A was to remove section one from Canon 31. Option B would
remove the section but add a clause saying that no cleric would be
obliged to solemnise a marriage against his or her conscience.
Option C was to retain section one, but alter the text to render
the description as non-gender specific, for example by deleting
"one man and one woman" and substituting "two persons".
Option D added the conscience clause to that. Option E was to
add non-specific gender references, a conscience clause, and an
additional statement that within the Church there were two
expressions of marriage: one between two members of the opposite
sex and one between two people irrespective of gender. Option F was
as E but including a conscience clause.
An early amendment sought to keep the definition of marriage in
the canon but allow clergy to opt out of this on an individual
basis. This attempt at a compromise was brought by some of the
Evangelical clergy, but was decisively rejected by the Synod.
Canon Malcolm Round (Edinburgh) had called it an
"amendment for unity and diversity".
That amendment was lost, but three others were carried: voting
by single transferable vote (STV), which the
Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, said would
"allow the possibility of seeing what people could actually live
with"; something that would mean the voting process could continue
until one option had at least 50 per support. The options were
reduced to three - A, C and E - by dealing separately with the
conscience clause; and a procedural motion was agreed to be debated
before proceeding to a final vote.
THE debate on the theology of marriage (Motion 9) aroused strong
passions. The Bishop of Edinburgh, the Rt Revd
John Armes, reflected that the Cascade process had revealed no
single conviction. The Church had disagreed on the Bible before:
there had been "creative rediscovery of scripture" since the first
The Revd David Mumford (Brechin) was anxious
about the lack of definition in the Doctrine Committee's paper of
what marriage was. It showed a "wilfully confused" definition of
marriage that was "too cultural and not sufficiently ontological".
The Revd David Mills (St Andrews) drew Synod's attention to
recently published research on the good outcomes and benefits
outcomes for the children of same-sex partnerships.
The Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway, the Rt
Revd Gregor Duncan, said he had "tried very, very hard to come into
agreement that we should solemnise same-sex marriages. . . I am
certainly not at that point, despite my best efforts." The Cascade
conversations had changed him: "I experienced a dramatic drop in my
anxiety levels. . . I can live with whatever the Church decides to
do and know that my particular conscience is protected. On this
journey, this is where I am. This is a journey we all have to
The Revd Paul Watson (Aberdeen) was puzzled
that there was no theologically conservative option.
Dr Beth Routledge (Glasgow and Galloway)
observed: "We insist on seeing marriage between people of the
opposite sex as intrinsically different. There is no difference."
The Revd David Richards (Edinburgh), who leads the
large Evangelical Church of St Paul's & St George's, where the
Synod was being held, was disappointed in the report. Evangelicals
and liberals alike "do not find our experience echoed in this
report. . . We had hoped for more than we have."
Mr Brendan Grimley (St Andrews) was pleasantly
surprised to find "nothing in the report to support any of my
prejudices.. I had looked for vestiges of some of the things I hold
so dearly. . . I came away incredibly challenged. . . The report
has moved us into a different place."
The Revd Wilie Shaw (Edinburgh) wanted the cost
to ecumenical relations of going further down the road to be
recognised. Canon Ian Ferguson (Aberdeen and
Orkney) observed that when Canon 31 was put together, "it seemed
good to the Holy Spirit and us. . . I'm asking for the opportunity
to argue that the Canon was right, to us and to the Holy
Dr Francis Bridger (Brechin) found a "glaring
omission" in the paper. The question had not properly been asked,
what was the significance of gender differentiation? "Is there any
connection between the theology of creation in seeing humanity in
terms of male and female? What do we do with that presumption of
the Church about embodiment and complementarity and
differentiation?" The paper was "woefully short" on that.
Canon Malcolm Round (Edinburgh) did not
recognise a conservative perspective in the paper. "There is
nothing I can resonate with." He felt the report "glossed over the
importance of spiritual thinking. . . Hermeneutics are the
battlefield. . . We just find ourselves disenfranchised."
Mrs Christine McIntosh (Argyll & the Isles)
reflected that what made "one flesh" was not sexual union but
familiarity with one another in a long and faithful relationship -
"something any gay couple could experience in their life
The vote on Motion 9 was carried overwhelmingly, with 103 for,
17 against, and 3 abstentions. There was a strong feeling that the
Synod wanted to do more at this meeting than simply debating the
options for canonical change. Bishop Duncan said that the Synod was
at "a major point of decision" after members had been "praying,
conversing, debating, arguing, hoping, and hurting, and much more
than I can put into words." Motion 20 was clearly intended as "the
gateway to detailed discussion of the options." He stressed that
this was "the point at which, if Synod wishes to maintain the
status quo without further debate, it can do so now."
SYNOD voted by ballot before lunch on Friday to debate the
options for canonical change. This was enshrined in Motion 23:
"That this Synod instruct the Faith and Order Board to instruct the
Committee on Canons to prepare canonical material, reflecting the
preference as to canonical options expressed by this Synod so that
such canonical material can be considered by General Synod
In that debate, Mrs Pamela Gordon (Edinburgh)
described some of her own older generation as having been "on a
longer journey than others", moving to enlightenment about gay
relationships from "a state of complete ignorance".
"We can't ignore truths we have discovered. We have learned the
breadth and complexity of God's creation far beyond what was known
before," she said. "Yet we have baulked at embracing the diversity
of the wide spectrum of human sexuality. . . We have fed our
prejudices by daring to judge what we ourselves felt uncomfortable
with. We have withheld public blessing of same-sex unions, denied
the validity of experience that is other than our own."
Canon Malcolm Round (Edinburgh) was bitter
about "a planned set of motions and discussions which show a total
lack of understanding of Evangelicals." The "much lauded
inclusivity of the Scottish Episcopal Church is shown to be a bit
of a myth. . . The Evangelicals are not included in these major
changes. This is a yes or no option that many of us do not
The numerical strength of the big Evangelical churches was being
ignored: "We have been disenfranchised by the system." He warned
that churches that went down the road of going with the culture
declined in number and influence much faster than those that did
The Revd Alistair MacDonald (Aberdeen &
Orkney) said all three options were contrary to God's word. He
hoped people who believed that would be brave enough to vote
The Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, the
Rt Revd Mark Strange, said he could now say what he felt: that he
could speak about love. Married for 34 years, he described his own
sexuality as "ambiguous": before that marriage he could, he said,
"have just as easily" had another life.
"I am completely aware of the ambiguity that goes on in people's
lives. . . I talk of love. I just want to have a Church that
recognises that love in all. I am convinced that Christ himself
would understand it. Please vote for it," he said.
The Revd David Mumford (Brechin) said that
there had to be occasions when the Church said no. He described "a
split position where we struggle with being part of a worldwide
Church, and how far we take our views on the teaching of Jesus and
scripture to be normative. I am still not persuaded that we can
move to redefine marriage in this way."
Mr Howard Thompson (Edinburgh), thrice married,
and an Anglican for 60 years, said that experience had shown him
that a marriage worked only if it had God in it. Gay people had
"just as much right to have God rooting for them in their marriage
Dr Francis Bridger (Brechin) was concerned that
the decisions Synod made that day were not simply about the
Scottish Church, but its place within the Anglican Communion.
Having lived and worked in Los Angeles, he had observed "the damage
done to the American Episcopal Church and its relations with the
wider Communion by its failure, in electing Bishop Gene Robinson,
to take account of its place in the wider Communion. . . We have
the right to adapt canon law, but we don't have the right to say
what we do doesn't matter to our fellow Christians elsewhere."
Canon Ian Ferguson (Aberdeen & Orkney)
declared himself confused by the theological arguments, and
saddened that there had been no option of keeping the canon as it
was, something "quite unfair and undemocratic. I don't believe that
voting for this motion is the will of God."
The Very Revd Andrew Swift (Argyll & the
Isles) said that change was coming; "but we fear the negative
consequences, the dislocation feels worrying. But we should have
the courage to begin the process and the grace and integrity to
start it. . . People will feel distanced and isolated from the
Church . . . but we can work to keep our Scottish Episcopal Church
with its wonderful diversity without fracture and division."
The Revd David Richards (Edinburgh) said that
the doctrine paper had "lacked heart, was coldly forensic, and had
no soul. It never really defined what marriage really is: it is not
defined by theology or liturgy. It lacked a high view of marriage.
Marriage is established in creation. The state is perfectly
entitled to define marriage exactly as it wants, but it cannot ask
the Church to perform these services in its name. The option for no
change does not appear because yesterday's amendment fell."
The Revd Simon Mackenzie (Argyll & the
Isles) believed: "We can only vote according to our own
consciences, not in fear or anxiety of what the consequences might
be for others."
Bishop Duncan, said that the content and manner of the
contributions in the debate had "spoken volumes for our Church. I
have been moved by the passion and the measure by which they have
expressed that passion. This is about the discernment of truth, and
we should not forget that. If Synod were to pass this motion, there
will still be further debate today, and two more years of open
Voting to proceed to canonical changes yielded the result: for
92; against 35.
HAVING agreed that a conscience clause would be added to
whatever option - A, C or E - was approved, the Synod went on to
debate the options themselves.
Dr Beth Routledge (Glasgow & Galloway) said
voting for Option A as the first preference was the only way
forward. "We have heard a lot about the pain and heartache of those
feeling the Church is leaving them behind. I could live with C but
I know there are people who couldn't."
The Bishop of Edinburgh, the Rt Revd John
Armes, though Option E "the most honest, indicating that there are
clearly two ways in our Church of understanding marriage. I believe
that what I believe about marriage is guided by God. A lot of
people who feel equally guided by God take a position quite
different from mine. E would be an honest if slightly messy
solution. Option A perhaps obscures disagreement."
Prof. David Atkinson (Aberdeen & Orkney)
urged Synod to "seriously consider voting for E. This thinking
about marriage and what it means and who can contract it, is an
issue about time.
"Option E expresses that, says there are two clear views in the
Church. In five or ten years time, we may be in a different
The Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth (Glasgow &
Galloway) believed that, if a church were to be built in which
everyone would thrive, "we simply have to stop forcing one another
into saying things some of us don't agree with. Don't settle on a
definition of marriage that some people can't agree with but a
statement that affirms the life of people like me, a gay man.
"I care about those with a different view. Support Option A.
Silence can be a space for us where God can speak. Vote for a
Church where we do not try to define what others think about
Canon Ian Paton (Edinburgh) believed Option A
was "the only option that can keep us talking".
The Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth,
said: "We think as you all do about the unity of the Church,
seeking a way forward in truth and integrity that strengthens the
unity." He acknowledged the difficulty of finding agreement by
vote: "People hold their views because they believe the authority
for them lies outside themselves and are in that sense not
In appointing a conservative Evangelical bishop to give
alternative episcopal oversight to congregations, the Church of
England had "institutionalised different points of view, which has
been entirely unhelpful." The single transferable vote, in effect,
gave members more than one vote, allowing them to live with options
that might not be their first preference. "Use the process to speak
across diversity," he urged.
Canon Dominic Ind (St Andrews) wanted "a word
about fudge". He saw the "fudge" offered by Option A as "rather
wholesome . . . about getting the door open and carrying on the
The Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Revd Nigel
Peyton, had chaired the Cascade conversations. The process had been
"a discomfiting experience. I'm not sure whether no expression of
doctrine is really preferable to two. I want to keep us together in
one room, a family in one house. I won't vote for anything with a
hint of second-classness or fudge. How will this go down in the
public square? I'm drawn to A. But doing nothing is not an
Bishop Duncan confirmed to Synod that it was within the law to
express two definitions of marriage.
Canon Cliff Piper (Moray ) believed marriage to
be the union of two people living in monogamous loving
relationship. Option A allowed two people to enter into that.
Canon Alison Peden (St Andrews) chose Option A on
grounds of vocation. "Marriage is a vocation. Option A opens that
to all to be able to respond to a call from God to live in love
with the person you love." Mrs Helen Hood
(Edinburgh) was "not sure canons are the place to enshrine messy
provisionality." The Revd Nick Green (St Andrews)
was concerned that Option A could open up marriage to all kinds of
other unions, even siblings maybe. "None of the other options are
scripturally supported," he said.
Bishop Duncan finally reminded Synod, "Any of these options will
allow us to marry people of the same gender."
Motion 20A, the amended motion allowing Synod to vote on the
preferences, was now put to the vote. Result: for 110; against 12;
abstentions 2. It could then proceed to vote on 20B, the use of
STV, and the inclusion of a conscience clause so that any of these
options were voted for, the matter of conscience would be beyond
any reasonable doubt and would offer succour to people. That was
passed: for 119; against 5; abstentions 1.
In the final vote on the options, 88 people voted for Option A,
the clear winner. Eight voted for Option C, and 23 for Option
Synod then had to debate Motion 24, for the instruction to
prepare canonical materials to enable the registration of civil
partnerships in the Scottish Episcopal Church. But this was less
straightforward. Speakers expressed confusion as to why civil
partnerships were continuing when marriage was open to everyone. An
understanding was needed as to how they fitted in.
A request for a new canon must not be "nodded through", because
no one really had any idea what a religious civil partnership would
look like. This was not about a rite for same-sex blessings: it was
about registering civil partnerships in church. The Scottish
government was set to consult on opening up civil partnerships to
straight couples: it remained an open question until then.
The motion was lost: for 30; against 82; abstentions 4.
In the end, the Synod voted to instruct the Faith and Order
Board to oversee the preparation of new canonical legislation for
first reading next year by 110 votes in favour and 9 against.