A proposal to amend the marriage canon to permit same sex weddings in churches will be considered by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church next month, writes Gavin Drake. The proposed changes, which were requested by the Synod in 2015, remove the current definition of marriage in the first clause of the canon and adds a new “conscience clause” to prevent clergy opposed to the move from being forced to conduct same-sex weddings against their will.
The current Canon, C31, begins by defining marriage by stating: “The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God.”
The proposed amendment to Canon C31 would replace that wording with a new clause which says: “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. . .”
The Synod is being asked to give the proposed amendment a first reading – this requires a simple majority in each house of Synod. If approved, it would return to the Synod next year for a second reading. This would require a two-thirds majority in each house. In between first and second reading, diocesan synods have the opportunity to make their views known on the proposals.
A counter-motion from the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney re-affirming the traditional doctrine of marriage will be put to the Synod; but only if it declines to give the proposed changes to the canon a first reading
The Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney had proposed a motion saying that
“In the light of the recent Anglican Primates meeting we, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, wish to:
a) Support the Primates’ reaffirmation of the traditional doctrine of the church in upholding marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.
b) And commit to making no decisions that could put the SEC’s relationship with the Anglican Communion at risk.”
The Standing Committee have agreed to put the first part of the motion to the Synod; but have rejected part B. “That is partly because the wording of the motion is too vague and ambiguous to be legally competent to put to the Synod,” secretary general John F Stuart said in a note to Synod members.
“The motion seeks to commit the Synod to taking no action that would put the Scottish Episcopal Church’s relationship with the Anglican Communion at risk. However, at the time of making a decision to take any action, General Synod would not necessarily be in a position to know whether any such prospective action would put the SEC’s relationship with the Anglican Communion at risk.
“Nor is the meaning of ‘at risk’ clear. Also, short of the usual canonical process, one General Synod cannot bind a future General Synod as to how it should or should not act. In practice, it is for each Synod to decide for itself what decisions it wishes to make, in the light of whatever information is available to it at the time,” he said.
Discussion on the issue will begin on the afternoon of Thursday 9 June when Synod members will debate a report on the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting that took place in Canterbury Cathedral, England, in January and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-16) meeting in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, Zambia, in April. After this, the Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway, the Rt Revd Gregor Duncan, acting convenor of the provincial Faith and Order Board, will present a report detailing the proposed changes and explaining the process to be following by the Synod the following day.
During this session, the bishop will also “outline further recommendations . . . of how best the unity of the Church can be maintained in the event of the Synod deciding to alter Canon 31,” Bishop Gregor said; and he will also “outline work being done by the College of Bishops on ‘surrounding’ issues which need to be addressed in advance of any second reading of the Canon in 2017.”
On the morning of Friday 10 June, the Synod will debate the first reading of the proposed changes. If the Synod gives the proposals a first reading, the shortened motion from the Aberdeen and Orkney diocese will not be debated.