Extract from Bishop Gregor’s ‘charge’ to Synod, delivered in his absence through illness by the Dean.
In this charge I want to speak about the new marriage canon and about where we are in the synodical process, before sharing with you my own view of the proposed change – I do the latter not to try to persuade any of you to agree with me, but because I think you have a right to know what your bishop thinks about this matter.
So, where are we in the Synodical process? At General Synod in June 2016, following on from decisions made at General Synod 2015, a first reading was given to a new version of Canon 31. The new canon deletes any definition of marriage, says that there are differing understandings of marriage in our church, something that is already clear enough from the various introductions to the marriage service provided in the 2007 Marriage Liturgy, states that no one may be obliged to solemnize a marriage against their conscience and provides that clergy who wish to solemnize marriage between people of the same gender will be nominated to the state authorities by the Diocesan Bishop. (I.e. there will be no blanket authorization as there is with marriage between persons of the same gender). It should be noted that this nominating procedure is provided for in the Marriage Act itself. The canon is cast in this way to give as much protection as possible to those clergy who, for whatever reason and from whatever perspective, would not wish to solemnize such marriages. And it is cast in this way as a result of a lot of work by the College of Bishops and the Faith and Order Board guided by the desire to maximize our opportunities to keep the church together across major difference. At Synod 2016 the new version of the canon received simple majorities in each house – laity, clergy, bishops – voting separately. Simple majorities are all that are required for a first reading.
The canon has now come down to Diocesan Synods in February and March 2017 for debate and no doubt for voting. The tenor of the debates, any votes taken and any amendments passed will be transmitted back to General Synod for the second reading debate in June 2017. For the canon to become part of the Code of Canons it must at that stage receive a two-thirds majority in each house voting separately. If it secures these majorities then, probably by the autumn of this year, it will be possible for nominated clergy to solemnize marriages between persons of the same gender in church. It will also be possible for clergy themselves to marry their same-sex partners if they so desire – legally they can do that already but the Bishops have made it clear that they do not wish them to do that until and if the church changes the canon – as far as I know clergy have been loyal to that episcopal guidance. The bishops have prepared pastoral guidance to cover all of this -consultation is ongoing on that – and there will be clear procedures – as required by the state – for the nominating process itself. If the changes go through it is expected that the Marriage Liturgy of 2007, with approved variants, will be used – there is no proposal that the Prayer Book liturgy could be used for marriages between people of the same gender.
Now, my own view. But first, I want to offer you a little bit of context, my context as Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway and your context as members of this diocese. For as long as I have been in this diocese anything between a fifth and a quarter of the stipendiary clergy has been gay (just now it is slightly over a quarter) and of these many are living in faithful and committed relationships with a person of the same gender, with the support of their vestries and congregations. Some are single. And, of course, there are plenty of lay people who are gay across our diocese. As I’ve indicated there is nothing new in this- it is not for nothing that our Diocese has been mocked in some English circles as Glasgay and Galloway. People may mock, but more fool them. I take pride in it. I could not be Bishop to my clergy in any meaningful sense if I did not honour, value and respect the contribution clergy who are gay make. I know that my predecessor made this point very strongly at the last Lambeth Conference – I would do the same, if I were to have the opportunity. But, more importantly, I hope, I make no distinctions between my clergy – married, single, partnered, straight, gay or whatever. What I’m interested in is their priestly or diaconal life and ministry and the effect it has for the growth of the people of God and for their own well-being. Nevertheless, and this I have shared with my clergy and my readers, I cannot find it in my heart or mind, however hard I try – and I am capable of changing my mind as even my harshest critic on this matter generously recognizes – to describe or think of same-sex relationships as marriage. I have come to think that they are to be valued and celebrated in their own right and for what they are rather than for what, in my view, they are not. I regret that neither I nor our church has pressed for that to be a reality. But neither the Law of Scotland, nor anything in scripture, tradition or reason persuades me to depart from what Canon 31.1 still says about marriage. I will regret its deletion if that is where we get to in the end, though I will accept that and honour that and the processes and procedures put in place to enable clergy who wish to solemnize marriages between people of the same gender. For me, this is not a retiring issue! But I would not wish myself to be nominated to do that.
I mentioned regrets a moment ago. Let me end with another. It is our desire to continue to solemnize marriages on behalf of the State and so, in effect, to privilege marriage as the relation we supremely wish to bless. Well, the State has changed the terms of engagement and we have chosen to decide to accept the new terms or not. What we have not done is even to consider the possibility of opting out from State service and deciding for ourselves which relationships to bless. If we did that, relationships between people of the same gender, whether involving sexual relations or not, might take their place as one among a range of relations, many of them not sexual, worthy of blessing. But that is just a dream, at least for now. It will therefore be no surprise to you to learn that, had I been here, I would have voted against the new canon, as I did at General Synod last year and aim to do again this year.