Same-sex Marriage: The Last Taboo?
“We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe that this is the right thing to do.” Nicola Sturgeon
Four days ago the SNP announced plans to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland following a consultation which garnered a record 77,508 responses. Unsurprisingly the proposal is being staunchly opposed by the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland, who seem to believe the fabric of society will unravel if the bill goes forward; however the majority of the Scottish people seem to be in favour as long as the government allows religious institutions to opt out of performing ceremonies if they feel it is contradictory to their beliefs. With British society becoming increasingly secular and same-sex civil partnerships already permitted throughout the UK, is the decision to allow marriages in addition to what is already available not simply removing the specifying of gender from the legislative vernacular?
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, recently referred to same-sex marriage as a ‘grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right’. This kind of inflammatory language, coupled with bizarre comments from Archbishop-elect Philip Tartaglia insinuating that the tragic death of MP David Cairns was somehow as a result of his sexuality or lifestyle (rather than complications of acute pancreatitis as cited by medical professionals), has certainly lent credence to gay rights campaigners assertion that this is just another attempt at ostracise and vilify LGBT people rather than a genuine debate about the proposed bill. Cairns’ partner, Dermot Kehoe, called the Archbishop of Glasgow homophobic and prejudiced after the comments, which Tartaglia is yet to show contrition for.
“It is not homophobic to say you don’t agree with gay marriage. It isn’t homophobic to think it is unchristian. But what is homophobic is to make generalised views based on their sexuality… It’s generalising on the basis of ignorance. It’s taking something you know nothing about and saying it’s because he’s gay, that’s the definition of prejudice.” Dermot Kehoe
The concept of marriage predates reliable records, however it has always been based on the contractual rather than the religious. In Jewish custom, the Ketubah (a contract akin to a prenuptial agreement) is signed at the time of the marriage and is essentially a written agreement setting out the terms for the relationship. The marriage ceremony, therefore, is meant to be a public demonstration of a couple’s commitment to this agreement, and it is this legal document rather than the ceremony that constitutes the marriage. The same type of contact also exists in Islam and is known as Katb el-Kitab or Nikah-Nama. The blend of the secular and religious is purely a choice: twice as many heterosexual couples opt for a non-religious registry office wedding or humanist ceremony as are married in a church, therefore it seems the question of same sex marriage should not be debated primarily by religious institutions.
“It seems like it is the last vestige of an older morality.” John Haldane
The fact is that civil partnerships have gone along way towards allowing LGBT people to have their relationships legally recognised and to affording them most of the same rights as heterosexual couples. Many of the critics in the marriage debate are simply asking, isn’t that enough? For many it is, and understandably given most religious institutions’ views on gay lifestyles a church wedding is not high on everyone’s agenda. That said, it should surely be a choice left down to the individual couple, and one that should be theirs to make. With gay ministers now being ‘accepted’ in the church (provided they declared their sexuality and were ordained before 2009) it does not seem too great a leap to assume that there will also be parishioners who are gay and would like to be able to be married in their church.
The SNP have made clear their intentions stating that “no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages”, also adding that although protection for religious bodies not choosing to conduct such ceremonies already exists under the UK Equality Act they will also amend the law to give further protection. With this in place and no one being forced to participate in ceremonies they cannot reconcile with their religion, the refusal to allow two people (who love each other but happen to be the same gender) to have the same rights as a straight couple smacks of nothing more than bigotry cloaked in faith. If the church survived the coming-out of the clergy it is unlikely that this latest step towards genuine equality will cause it to crumble, but if it does then surely it is not truly an institution built on love as it professes to be.
“I believe that love shared and celebrated in society between two people of the same sex should make no-one afraid and can only enrich communities.” Rev. Scott Rennie