Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

In redefining marriage for churches would Scotland be taking a step too far in the legal activism of the State?

Thu 26 July 2012, 12:30pm

I think I heard someone say on Nolan this morning that Northern Ireland may be the only place in the UK that does not accord marriage status to same sex partnerships, if (or when) the Scottish Parliament brings forth the appropriate legislation… Well, not at the moment, there’s no plans for change in England or Wales…

Rather worryingly the Scots plan seems to include an extension of some aspects of employment legislation to protect individual ministers or priests from any disciplinary action from their respective churches. Nicola Sturgeon tries to finesse the issue somewhat:

“The Scottish government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws.

“However, our view is that to give certainty on protection for individual celebrants taking a different view from a religious body that does agree to conduct same-sex marriages, an amendment will be required to the UK Equality Act.”

Whatever the merits or demerits of extending civil partnerships in a new institution of secular marriage, the blanket re-definition of marriage by the state for what Pete likes to call ‘spiritualist’ institutions is worth a second or third look.

The state consists of a set of democratic institutions. Law is made within its chambers and laws can be remade there according to the way wider opinion and social mores change. Churches are governed by cannons of belief. These also change over time, the Reformation being the perfect storm of politics, technological, social and religious change.

Though rarely, if ever, at the behest of the state.

Recent heated debates in the Church of Ireland demonstrate that this is a live issue that motivates both its liberal and conservative wings… The Catholic Church, whether it be the fire from the hip style of the Vatican’s new man in Scotland, or the more moderate Diarmuid Martin, the line is the same: not on your life.

But this is surely where these issues should be decided?

There is a real danger that rather than granting people to the decent freedom to marry whomsoever they see fit, the proponents of these changes are in danger of delegitimising orthodox articles of faith by intervening in the internal life of institutions that ought to be free to decide what they believe: and not be dictated to by the law.

Disclosure: Despite being married, I am a much stronger believer in the power of the wedding ceremony rather than in ‘marriage’ per se. And that is something that is available to everyone, as things stand. It also seems to me that the power of the marriage lies in the quality of the legal contract not to mention the commitment of those involved.

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Comments (20)

  1. dwatch (profile) says:

    Gay-marriage in Northern Ireland?
    http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/local/gay-marriage-in-northern-ireland-1-4095209

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  2. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    “for what Pete likes to call ‘spiritualist’ institutions”

    Actually, that’s supernaturalist institutions.

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  3. pashaluk (profile) says:

    The trouble as I see it, is that people get away with what ever rhetoric they come off with without being challenged.

    the issue is not gay marriage, it is equal marriage.

    religious types often say that people should not be known for their sexuality, and yet insist on calling marriage equality, ‘gay marriage’.

    ‘It will harm civilization as we know it’ that is not only an anti-homotic statement, it is an anti-Canadian statement.

    Her majesty Queen Elizabeth 2, has already given the royal assent to gay equality in marriage. She did so 7 years ago for Canada. i was at a family wedding at the weekend with many Canadian members of the extended family who had flown in for the wedding. They did not appear any less civilized than we are. In fact as they have had marriage equality for 7 years now ‘whole of Canada’ and 9 years ’90% of Canada’ they are more civilized than we are.

    If anyone thinks it will diminish civilization or moral values as we know these to be, let them look to Canada and quote examples from there, It is British Commonwealth afterall.

    elsewise be quiet.

    I hear that people here hold on to their Christian Values, but where were these Christian values during the troubles. for example When the men came out from the Ulster Hall waving their firearms certificates in their hands, where were these Christian Values?

    At Ardoyne shopfronts when every year when men who say they belong to a Christian organization, Christ centred, bible based etc, insist in walking where they know their presence will cause unease, and ill will to their neighbours. Where are the Christian values. Love worketh no ill to a neighbour the bible tells us in Romans 13:10 and that’s the KJV

    Christian values? you must be joking. Dont tell me, you have Christian values, Show me. I havent seen much yet in Northern Ireland in my 60 years of living in it.

    Ever notice that the propagators of this notion of Christian values who speak out against gay people, never tell us about their sex lives.

    Freedom and equality is all that is being sought by equality in marriage. What right has anyone of a particular religious faith to interfere with or influence the lives of people who do not share their beliefs.

    Wait till you hear the Christians complaining when the majority religion in Northern Ireland is Islam, They will be glad of gay support then, I can assure you.

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  4. pashaluk (profile) says:

    The Canadian Law for those who may be interested

    http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/LegislativeSummaries/bills_ls.asp?ls=c38&Parl=38&Ses=1#b2capacitytxt

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  5. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    pashal,

    You’re somewhat ducking the point of the piece… Does the state have a right to legislate on an individual’s belief or regulate the belief of any given church by affording their dissenting priests legislative protections?

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  6. dwatch (profile) says:

    “Wait till you hear the Christians complaining when the majority religion in Northern Ireland is Islam, They will be glad of gay support then, I can assure you.”

    I think you got that a mixed up pashal, its the Gay community who would be looking for Christian support.

    Islamic countries dangerous for gays
    http://www.cobourgatheist.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1417:islamic-countries-dangerous-for-gays&catid=22&Itemid=118

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  7. “Does the state have a right to … regulate the belief of any given church by affording their dissenting priests legislative protections?”

    No, or at least I think it would be madness to do so. When the State interferes in the organisation of religion, it legitimises religious interference in the business of the State in said State’s regulation of believers of other faiths and none.

    One issue that has come up in Canada is civil marriage commissioners employed by the Provinces refusing to perform marriages on conscience grounds – so far as I know the courts have sided with the Provinces in the cases to date.

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  8. Also: there have been issues with Church or otherwise religious halls being offered for public rent being hired for same-sex marriage celebrations. Such organisations in the UK who offer their facilities to the public at large rather than their membership alone may need to take heed, particularly at the British Columbia case where damages of $1,000 were awarded by the Human Rights Tribunal against the Knights of Columbus in part solely because of the manner in which the hall operators conducted themselves in withdrawing the booking.

    (2005 BCHRT 544 para 124: “In this case, the Knights could have taken steps such as meeting with the complainants to explain the situation, formally apologizing, immediately offering to reimburse the complainants for any expenses they had incurred and, perhaps offering assistance in finding another solution. There may have been other options that they could have considered without infringing their core religious beliefs. The fact is they gave no thought to any option other than cancelling the rental. In the circumstances of this case, including the fact that the Hall was not solely a religious space, and the existence of the agreement between the parties for its rental, the Panel finds that the Knights should have taken these steps, which would have appropriately balanced the rights of both parties.”)

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  9. dwatch (profile) says:

    She went on: “The Scottish government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws.”

    What I cannot figure out if “no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages” presuming she means “churches chapels & clerics” were by who, and in what buildings or places are same-sex marriages going to be conducted?

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  10. dwatch (profile) says:

    Apologies, I meant by she: Nicola Sturgeon

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  11. anne warren (profile) says:

    The SNP government announced plans to introduce same-sex marriage, enabling both civil and religious ceremonies, with the necessary opt-outs for churches which could not, in good conscience, bless gay marriage e.g. the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland.
    On the other hand, liberal Jews and Quakers for example, resent the continuing bar on them offering ceremonial equality
    Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, explained the issue on her website
    “No church or religious organisation should be forced to conduct same sex marriages. Freedom of religion is a very important part of our society. It is embedded in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the courts will continue to respect that, and Parliament will be able to reaffirm that when legislation is debated.
    “However, it is equally important to respect religious freedom by allowing those organisations that do want to offer same sex marriage ceremonies the opportunity to do so.
    “At the moment the government is ruling out allowing any religious organisation from conducting same sex marriages. That is unfair on organisations such as the Quakers, the Unitarians and Reform and Liberal strands of Judaism who want the freedom to celebrate same sex marriage. It also makes it harder for other churches and religious organisations to change their minds in future without having to go back to Parliament. We are urging the government to change their plans”.
    http://www.yvettecooper.com/many-religious-organisations-and-people-within-different-faiths-

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  12. dwatch (profile) says:

    “On the other hand, liberal Jews and Quakers for example resent the continuing bar on them offering ceremonial equality”

    Anne, were is there official documented evidence, liberal Jews and Quakers have been barred from holding same-sex marriage ceremonies? Who may I ask barred them?

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  13. dwatch (profile) says:

    The views on this subject by Quakers are varied from country to country. Quakers in Ireland certainly have not approved of same-sex relationships. And the ones who do in England & GB refuse to still call it marriage.

    “Quaker views of homosexuality”

    “The views of Quakers toward gay marriages, to the view that homosexuality is abhorrent and sinful.”

    “A number of British meetings, probably more than a dozen since 1994, have celebrated same-sex relationships through an official meeting for commitment – a public act of worship something very like the traditional Quaker wedding. However, Britain Yearly Meeting does not currently use the term marriage. British Quakers supported the introduction of the legal status of ‘civil partnerships’ in the UK, and there is currently debate whether they should press for the legal right to put spiritual and legal union together as is the case for marriage. It is unclear what the outcome of this will be.

    Ireland
    The unprogrammed Ireland Yearly Meeting, which includes meetings in Northern Ireland, has no recent public statement on its attitudes towards homosexuality. With regards to same-sex unions, in 1993, the IYM declared “we believe in the institution of marriage, and in common with many others are currently wrestling with the problem of what our attitude should be to the other forms of human relationships which are increasingly being accepted by society at large.” Subsequent statements have continued to fail to resolve this issue.”

    http://quaker.wikia.com/wiki/Quaker_views_of_homosexuality

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  14. anne warren (profile) says:

    Dwatch
    “liberal Jews and Quakers who resent the continuing bar on them offering ceremonial equality”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/25/gay-marriage-scotland-the-brave

    Not being a lawyer or religious this is what I understand from news reports and Yvette Cooper’s post on her website.
    As the law stands at present for same-sex couples civil partnerships are legal. These are the equivalent of a registry office marriage (no religious ceremony).
    Heterosexuals who hold religious beliefs have a religious ceremony if they want one, and the state recognizes the church/synagogue/chapel ceremony as legally binding. Same sex partners, who hold religious beliefs, can’t have a similar religious ceremony as no law permits it. So even though some congregations (Quakers, liberal Jews) may, unlike the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, be willing to hold such a ceremony they can’t because it is not permitted by law. Therefore they are barred from performing it.

    You showed the Quakers have not made their minds up yet, using statements from 1993 and saying subsequent statements have failed to resolve the issue.
    I used the word “may” which implies a certain doubt.
    Yvette Cooper seems to seems to have more definite information aboutt the Quaker position.
    Perhaps you should contact her? Or the Guardian journalist who also seems to have definite information.

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  15. Irishlassabroad (profile) says:

    Hi Dwatch

    Just in answer to your “where” comments – Scotland is a wee bit more forward thinking than home (in my opinion after being in Scotland for 5 years) and you can get a wedding licence for pretty much anywhere you want – castles, boats, beaches. There is also more choice with the who will marry you as humanist weddings are legal in Scotland and growing in popularity every year.

    I am quite proud of Scotland supporting equal marriage but think Mick does have an interesting point regarding state interfering with Church and vice versa.

    I guess it comes down that I don’t think anyone should be telling people what to believe but those beliefs should not interfere with other people’s freedoms either.

    I think love is love – if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one!

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  16. dwatch (profile) says:

    “and you can get a wedding licence for pretty much anywhere you want – castles, boats, beaches.”

    If this be so why then why does the gay community keep harping on they want to be married in Protestant Churches & Catholic Chapels were they are not wanted?

    “Perhaps you should contact her? Or the Guardian journalist who also seems to have definite information.”

    Anne warren, why should I contact Yvette Cooper who happens to be a Labour MP in England were she has no knowledge of what the Quakers do or believe here in Northern Ireland. I have a few friends of mine who are Quakers here in NI. No way does their meeting place or any other in Ireland approve of Gay marriage. For your information many rural Quakers communities in NI are non liberal and abhor the concept of same -sex marriage, unlike Quakers in England.

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  17. anne warren (profile) says:

    Dwatch
    the thread is about Holyrood’s (Scotland’s) plans to introduce same-sex marriage.

    I showed what Westminster is thinking through Yvette’s post to provide a fuller picture of the debate in the UK as a whole.

    “At the moment the government (Westminster) is ruling out allowing any religious organisation from conducting same sex marriages. That is unfair on organisations such as the Quakers, the Unitarians and Reform and Liberal strands of Judaism who want the freedom to celebrate same sex marriage”

    I suppose Quakers in NI can avail of the opt-out clause Yvette talked about in her previous paragraph.
    What’s your problem?

    If you don’t like the message, why take umbrage with the messenger?

    .

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  18. dwatch (profile) says:

    anne warren, I don’ t have any problem, the organisations you mention have not required government approval to conduct gay marriages, so where is the evidence they say they do?

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  19. (dwatch) “why does the gay community keep harping on they want to be married in Protestant Churches & Catholic Chapels were they are not wanted?”

    Citation?

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  20. dwatch (profile) says:

    (dwatch) “why does the gay community keep harping on they want to be married in Protestant Churches & Catholic Chapels were they are not wanted?” Citation?

    Catholic Church hits back at gay-marriage law plans
    http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/catholic-church-hits-back-at-gay-marriage-law-plans.18275877

    Church of Ireland Upholds Marriage as Between One Man and One Woman
    Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/church-of-ireland-upholds-marriage-as-between-one-man-and-one-woman-74970/#ZKTcJwvmQTY6JHvG.99

    Presbyterian: General Board “No” To Gay Marriage
    http://www.presbyterianireland.org/pdfs/newsletter03-12.pdf

    Quakers in Ireland.
    “we believe in the institution of marriage, and in common with many others are currently wrestling with the problem of what our attitude should be to the other forms of human relationships which are increasingly being accepted by society at large.” Subsequent statements have continued to fail to resolve this issue.”

    http://quaker.wikia.com/wiki/Quaker_views_of_homosexuality

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