Gay Marriage in Scotland

Apparently, the apocalypse has begun in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Deputy First Minister, today confirmed she will bring forward legislation but said it will include “important protections” for clergymen, teachers and parents who oppose the move.

She said she is working with the Home Office to amend UK equalities laws to ensure that celebrants cannot be prosecuted by gay couples if they refuse to conduct a marriage service.

But the SNP administration faces a backlash from religious leaders after the results of a public consultation, published to coincide with the announcement, showed 64 per cent of respondents opposed the change.

Only 36 per cent backed the move but Miss Sturgeon argued that other surveys showed a majority are in favour. A record 77,000 people responded to the consultation, three times as many as gave their views on the independence referendum.

The Deputy First Minister said the first gay marriages in Scotland are likely to take place at the start of 2015, the same year that the Coalition Government wants to make the change south of the Border.

Forget the issue that even when you removed the Roman Catholic postcard campaign submissions to the consultation there was still a majority against the move, the real debate is how the lawyers will handle the possibility of gay marriage being legal north of the border but not south of it. For example, imagine a male couple get married north of the border and then demand to be identified as married south of it (for example on a government form). What will the response be?

Interesting legal dilemmas ahead…

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  • Si_Hollett

    surely not much different from all the other differences in marriage law between the two kingdoms in GB? OK, Gretna Green elopements are not common these days, but even when they were common, the marriages that were unlawful if the ceremony took place south of the Solway were considered legit in England & Wales if the ceremony was done north of the border.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      But surely utterly different? Put aside current Equality legislation that says you need to treat marriages and civil partnerships identically, the fundamental question is WILL such a couple be lawfully married south of the border?

      Lawyers please respond!

      • Ryan Dunne

        Dan Savage is fond of referring, accurately, to his partner as “my husband in Canada and boyfriend in America”. It’s not inconceivable that such a distinction could be made in the UK, albeit if only till such a time that English law catches up with the Scotch kind

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          Yeah, we’re big Dan ****ing Savage fans here aren’t we?

          I think you’re rather missing the point.

          • nowconcerned

            Wow, Peter! Language unbecoming of a clerk in holy orders? Who is this Dan Savage guy anyway.

            • Ryan Dunne

              He’s on google you know ;-)
              In any case, he was cited because of the boyfriend in location x/husband in location y line which is pertinent to this discussion. I’d have invoked it if it had been said by Mark Driscoll or a Daily Mail columnist.

              • nowconcerned

                Get the reference now. I thought Peter had some particular grudge against dan savage and was venting this on his blog (which, of course, would not be allowable behaviour in other members).

            • Ryan Dunne

              and I don’t think the C of E can afford to unfrock priests for using asterisks ;-)

            • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

              It’s a fond description… Basically Dan Savage is known for having a dynamic potty mouth.
              While we’re on the subject, did you know that a famous cleric who alternates jobs either side of the Thames picked up the nick-name “The f***ing Vicar of Putney”? Who’d have thought…

          • Ryan Dunne

            Well, in fairness Mark Driscoll is also prone to some down-wit-da-kidz sort of language, but Dan Savage can write and is funny whereas Driscoll is, er, not so much ;-)

            I take the point. Scots law is already a distinct entity. Are you implying that the Scottish Government could not create legislation that would mean a couple were NOT married in England? Is that not rather the sort of thing that probably would have been checked before today’s announcement? Or, alternatively, is your concern that English courts would be forced to recognise Scots gay marriages, meaning (aside from your moral objections to gay marriage per se) that a further danger of legalising gay marriage in Scotland is that it will mean that gay marriage will be introduced in England via the back door (er, so to speak)?

  • Ryan Dunne


    Forget the issue that even when you removed the Roman Catholic postcard campaign submissions to the consultation there was still a majority against the move

    Ten years (plus!) after Section 28, people of sense have indeed accepted that getting the majority to vote on the civil rights of a minority is not, to riot in understatement, an obvious just or even valid use of the law, and the referendums are not intended to be used whenever limelight-seeking Cardinals deign they should be. Perhaps Scotland’s sad history of sectarianism has helped put the issue in sharp relief. No-one in Glasgow would take seriously the notion that a heterosexual protestant can waltz into a RC Chapel and demand to be married, so the alarmist fear that floods of evangelical churches would be forced to marry gay people is demonstrably ludicrous.

    I’d have preferred a post on The Dark Knight Rises tho… ;-)

  • MarkSG

    I don’t think the problem of gay marriage being legal in one place but not another is an issue. We already have that with other countries which have gay marriage; the current solution is that a gay marriage validly contracted outside England is considered, for all legal purposes, to be a civil partnership here. There’s no reason why that can’t apply to Scotland either.

    What concerns me more is the problem referred to by the CofE in their submission to the English and Welsh consultation, that is, that the proposals are getting muddled up between marriage as an institution and a wedding as a means of entry to that institution. Allowing clergy to opt out of performing a gay wedding is clearly necessary but, as the Scottish proposal notes, is almost certainly legal already – the new law will simply clarify that. But what isn’t mentioned, and yet is far more important if freedom of belief is to be maintained, is for churches and other religious organisations to be able to opt out, not merely of conducting gay weddings, but of recognising gay marriage as having any relevance to them. So, for example, if a church wants to offer marriage counselling to its members, or run a marriage preparation course (such as those offered by HTB and many other churches), then they would be able to restrict that to people who meet their definition of marriage. If laws creating gay marriage don’t permit religious organisations to opt out of recognising it, then that will create severe problems for churches that do want to have ministries or roles specific to their married members.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      We’ve pointed out this issue before here on the blog.

    • Tom Jones

      “But what isn’t mentioned, and yet is far more important if freedom of belief is to be maintained, is for churches and other religious organisations to be able to opt out, not merely of conducting gay weddings, but of recognising gay marriage as having any relevance to them.”

      But surely Mark, don’t they do this already? Catholics are not supposed to recognise the marriages of divorcees so all those divorced and remarried “Separated Brethren” or whatever they call Protestants these days are *really* thought to be adulterers living in a state of mortal sin. Of course most Catholics are too polite to point this out and Catholics don’t go in for shunning sinners but Vincent Nicholls fairly recently pointed out, as reported by Andrew Brown*, some high ranking Catholics are no more “married” than any gay couple, where one party has a divorced spouse still living, however much they may be perceived as married by the populace at large.

      *”Nichols went out of his way to mention the similarities between remarried Catholics and gay ones. Neither can really be married, in Catholic teaching. Nor should either group have sex, according to the Vatican. This will come as bad news to prominent Catholics such as Cristina Odone (married to a divorced man) and Clifford Longley (on his second wife). Yet both of these journalists are quite rightly regarded as adornments to the English Catholic church.”

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2012/mar/05/catholics-gay-marriage-cardinal-obrien?newsfeed=true

      • Guglielmo Marinaro

        Edward Stourton is another.

      • annalee14

        To be fair to Cristina Odone, she’s made no secret of this. She’s pointed out that she’s accepted that her choice to marry a divorcee means that, as the rules stand, she’s excluded from communion. She’s not trying to change the rules to suit herself, but not others. Her position is that the Church is there to uphold an ideal. People can fall short of that ideal, but they can’t insist that the Church changes to suit them. I think that’s her argument.

        Just in general, I find the attempts to accuse the Church of hypocrisy when it comes to marriage just don’t stick. While society may take these things lightly, the Church has never been keen on divorce, sex before marriage, contraception (although Protestants don’t regard it as a sin in terms of family planning, they do encourage you to have the family at some point), or any of the other things it’s supposed to have embraced. For years pastors have been discussing how to tread that difficult line between being open and understanding without compromising on essentials. Although homosexuality may be the biggest area in which they’ve failed to empathise with the feelings and perspective of potential Church goers, it can hardly be said that they’ve just caved in on everything else.

        • Tom Jones

          I wonder why she bothered to go through a form of marriage at all then. In the eyes of her Church – and herself if she really believes Catholic doctrine on this matter – why pretend she is married when she isn’t? It looks like she is pulling the wool over non-Catholics’ eyes when the brave thing to do would be to say “My Church says I can’t marry a divorced man so I won’t pretend to. I’ll be honest and admit that I am living in sin but I won’t compound that sin by going through a faux-ceremony that I know to be wrong”. After all, she has been quite publicly outspoken about gay people’s marriages so she should expect some of that logic should be applied to her case. The difference, though, is that she did have the recourse to go in for a secular” non-religious” marriage (pace Peter) beyond the scope of the Catholic Church; a recourse, that as far as I have understood her, she still wants to deny to gay people. Is that hypocritical? Or is she just a very muddled person?

          • annalee14

            You’d have to ask her that. Some Catholics regard her as a very muddled person indeed because of her sympathy with liberals (she supported civil partnerships) and don’t see her as speaking for them at all. Sometimes her logic can be a bit hard to follow, but I’m guessing she’s making some kind of distinction between marriage as a sacrament and marriage as a social good. Her marriage to a divorced man couldn’t be a sacrament because she’s broken the rules, and the Church has to keep religious marriage sacred. However, if she’s going to live with a man and have children, it’s good for society for her to marry in a civil ceremony.

            Arguing for civil marriage to remain defined as ‘one man, one woman’ is following the Pope’s calling to all Catholics around the world to retain concepts such as mother, father, husband, wife, gender distinction and complementarity for the good of future generations. Divorce is a Church matter – non-Catholics aren’t expected to remain faithful to one partner. The definition of marriage is seen by the Church as a matter of universal grace, like care for the planet, that the Church can’t just ignore and let secular society get on with.

            I’m not a Catholic, so that’s probably completely up the left! Where’s the good Fr. when you need him?

      • MarkSG

        The big difference here is that not recognising the validity of remarriage, or non-Catholic marriage, is not unlawful because it isn’t discriminating in a way prohibited by law. Although religion is a protected characteristic in anti-discrimination law, religious organisations have an opt-out on that to the extent necessary for compliance with their own rites and practices (so, for example, Catholics can still be Catholics, and Muslims can still be Muslims, without unlawfully discriminating against non-members simply by doing what Catholics and Muslims do).

        Sexuality, on the other hand, is a protected characteristic, and churches don’t have an opt-out on it (a church can’t refuse to employ someone because they are gay, for example). So discriminating against someone on the basis that they have a gay marriage rather than a heterosexual marriage is potentially unlawful. In particular, if a gay couple have a marriage that, in every other respect, would be considered valid if it was a both-sex marriage (ie, it is a first marriage, it is not adulterous, it has been contracted according to rites accepted as valid by that denomination) then to consider it invalid is to discriminate solely on the basis of sexuality.

        The Catholics might have an easier time of it legally, as they (technically, at least) don’t consider that marriages contracted according to the rites of other churches are valid. So if they don’t perform gay marriages themselves then they will never be in that situation of rejecting a marriage solely for being gay – they can reject it as being Protestant, or civil, or whatever. But most, if not all, Protestant churches accept as valid any marriage contracted by any lawful ceremony in any church. That means that a conservative-leaning Baptist church, for example, could find itself obliged to recognise as valid a gay marriage conducted by a liberal Methodist church unless given an explicit opt-out by law.

        • Tom Jones

          It’s not quite as straightforward though, Mark. The Vatican does recognise marriages even those conducted in registrar offices as long as neither party is a Catholic and there are no previous spouses still living. For Catholics the only place they can get validly married is in a Catholic ceremony. Though it is not meant to do this it allows some Catholics to have what appears to be a second “white wedding” in church with all the trimmings, e.g. Nicole Kidman after her divorce from Tom Cruise – the first wedding was probably a Scientology one, and bizarre though this seems, it would have been recognised as valid if Kidman hadn’t been a Catholic but because she was it wasn’t. Then there is the whole issue of baptism. The sacrament of marriage depends on both parties being Christians – and for Catholics this entails baptism. Of course there is the so-called Pauline Privilege but best not to go there……the waters are already pretty muddied. Now that automatic infant baptism is no longer a certainty I wonder what the Catholic Church’s opinion about the status of most non-Catholic marriages really is.

          Perhaps Peter can answer this question, but do Anglican parsons always check that the people they marry have been baptised? If you have not been are you entitled to insist that the parson of the parish still marry you if there is no lawful impediment?

          • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

            Baptism is not a legal requirement to be married in a Church of England church.

  • Steven Bradshaw

    Apocalypse? Such language coming from someone who doesn’t hesitate to criticize others for their use of hyperbole and exaggeration is a little surprising, don’t you think? Or have logs and motes fallen out of fashion in conservative Anglican circles?

    Oh well, while the inconsistencies and foibles of opponents can be an amusing distraction, they perhaps shouldn’t divert me from the important issue at hand. Apocalypse Now! If the point of ignition was that hideous Scottish Parliament building, then given the timing of the announcement, I expect the rolling earthquake à la Harold Camping must have devastated London by now (no more Olympics, yay!) and will soon arrive here in Paris.

    But hold on a second, if Narnia … sorry, I mean the United Kingdom … has already been overturned and perished in fire and water then what am I doing wasting time on this blog (a question I often ask myself, although it seems especially pertinent if I only have 27 minutes or so left to live)?

    I think I’ll get me over to Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet and beg forgiveness from the frères intégristes. My sins are manifold. Gay sex, Mario-indifference, Papo-je-m’enfoutisme, laughing, breathing … my confessor has his work cut out for him so I’d better get a scoot on.

    Of course none of this will be necessary if there’s no apocalypse coming. But Mr Ould says there is and of course we all know he never exaggerates or uses hyperbole in any way, shape or form. How could he when he’s so disparaging of those who do?

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Steven doesn’t get irony. Or he’s being *really* ironic.

      Readers, you decide.

      • Tom Jones

        The one invoking the apocalypse was surely Keith Cardinal O’Brien…..and the only thing I hope he is thinking now (along with his colleague Archbishop-elect Philip Tartaglia) is “I should have kept my trap shut”. Anyone in Scotland who was not thoroughly anti-Catholic before must surely be so now.

        • Steven Bradshaw

          Indeed, this entire process has been a massive own goal for both the Catholic and Anglican Churches. The public at large now think of them as massively homophobic, which can only cause church attendance to decline further and the institution itself become even more irrelevant than it already was.

          It’s interesting to note that here in France reporting of the Catholic Church’s opposition to the forthcoming legalisation of gay marriage has been very muted. Short articles tucked away on inside pages of newspapers with a “sure they’re against it but who cares?” kind of attitude. Of course it’s early days, but I’d be surprised if the issue becomes as highly polemicised here as it is over there. The French just don’t think that clerical opinions are of any relevance in political debate and in any case the government majority is so absolute as to render opposition pretty pointless anyway.

          The French voted convincingly for a government that had gay marriage as a principal policy, so we’ve already had our referendum. It just remains to hope that the British will arrive at the same conclusion in the Byzantine, convoluted way they do this kind of thing over there. I’d be happy enough to marry at the Hôtel de Ville, but the option of a castle wedding in Scotland is quite appealing. My partner and I in kilts and sporrans with skirling bagpipes and a strategically placed dirk or two could really make for a wedding to remember.

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