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General Synod 2017 and the Canon on Marriage

posted 10 Jun 2017, 08:10 by Dean Fostekew

At its General Synod meeting (Governing body) this week, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted on many agenda items of relevance to the life of the Province and our denomination within Scotland. For many the most significant vote was on the amendment of Canon XXXI on Marriage.

Following a long process of preparation and widespread discussions and conversations over many years that tried to encompass the breadth of views held throughout our Church the members of the General Synod voted in favour of the proposed amendment to the Canon. Thus allowing couples in a committed relationship to marry in church regardless of their gender. For some this was an act that brought great rejoicing, for others deep pain and hurt. The vote was taken in the three houses of Synod with Bishops voting 80% in Favour, Clergy 67.7% in favour and the laity 80.6% in favour. Overall that was a 75% of General Synod in favour. The vote was taken by secret ballot and in silence following a period of prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The result once given was received in silent prayer. It was a respectful and dignified debate and process.

Our denomination now formally acknowledges that within its body there are differing understandings of the nature of marriage and allows those with differing views to hold their views with integrity and respect. It gives those who may not be happy with same sex marriage a conscience clause that does not force them to do anything against their will and those who would wish to celebrate such unions the option to be licensed by their bishop and the Registrar General to do so:

“In the light of the fact that there are differing understandings of the nature of marriage in this Church, no cleric of this Church shall be obliged to conduct any marriage against their conscience. Any marriage which is to be conducted by a cleric shall be solemnised strictly in accordance with the civil law of Scotland for the time being in force and provided said cleric is satisfied, after appropriate enquiries, that the parties have complied with the necessary preliminaries as set forth in the civil law……  No cleric shall solemnise a marriage between persons of the same sex unless the said cleric shall have been nominated on behalf of the Church to the Registrar General for Scotland.” Paragraph 1 Canon XXXI

This is a significant change in our Church and a change that tries to say that we are an inclusively diverse’ church. A church that respects the beliefs and values of each other and will agree to disagree, despite the challenges this may bring. There will be guidelines for good practice coming from the General Synod and the College of Bishops in the very near future as to how those clergy that wish to be licensed to perform same sex marriages can be proposed to the Registrar General and how members of congregations who may hold differing views will have their views respected and affirmed.