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

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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