Scottish Episcopal Church votes to allow same-sex marriage

Photo: Scottish Episcopal Church
Photo: Scottish Episcopal Church
Published June 8, 2017

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church has voted in favour of allowing gay couples to marry in church. The vote means that the church’s canon law will be changed–to remove the definition that marriage is between a man and a woman. It means that gay Christians from any Anglican Church can now ask to be married in a Scottish Anglican Church.

A new section will be added to canon law, acknowledging that there are different understandings of marriage which now allow clergy to solemnize marriage between same-sex couples as well as couples of the opposite sex. The revised canon will stipulate that no member of clergy will be required to solemnize a marriage against their conscience.

Following the vote, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon issued the following statement:

“The churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make their own decisions on canon law. The Scottish Episcopal Church is one of 38, soon to be 39, provinces covering more than 165 countries around the world.

“Today’s decision by the SEC to approve changes to canon law on marriage is not a surprise, given the outcome of the vote at its Synod a year ago.  There are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion but this puts the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with the majority stance that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. This is a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage. The Anglican Communion’s position on human sexuality is set out very clearly in Resolution 1.10 agreed at the Lambeth conference of 1998 and will remain so unless it is revoked.

“As Secretary General, I want the churches within the Anglican Communion to remain committed to walking together in the love of Christ and to working out how we can maintain our unity and uphold the value of every individual in spite of deeply-held differences. It is important to stress the Communion’s strong opposition to the criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people.

“The primates of the Communion will be meeting in Canterbury in October. I am sure today’s decision will be among the topics which will be prayerfully discussed. There will be no formal response to the SEC’s vote until the primates have met.”

The three houses of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod –  bishops, clergy and laity – had to vote in favour with a two-thirds majority.  The narrowest margin was in the House of Clergy. The results were as follows:

For Against
Bishops (4) – 80% Bishops(1) – 20%
Clergy (42) – 67.7% Clergy (20) – 32.3%
Laity (50) – 80.6% Laity (12) – 19.4%


Responding to the vote, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Archbishop David Chillingworth, said:

“This is a momentous step. By removing gender from our marriage canon, our church now affirms that a same-sex couple are not just married but are married in the sight of God…..  But this same decision is difficult and hurtful for others whose integrity in faith tells them that this decision is unscriptural and profoundly wrong.  For them this new chapter will feel like an exclusion — as if their church has moved away from them. So the journey which we now begin must also be a journey of reconciliation. Every faith community must face the issues which are bound up with human sexuality –  in their own way and in their own time.  Others will arrive at answers different from ours.  And the Anglican Communion, which is embedded in our history and to which we are passionately committed –  the Anglican Communion will have to explore whether its historic commitment to unity in diversity can embrace this change.”

Chillingworth called on the Scottish Episcopal Church to address the change with truth, graciousness and acceptance of one another:

“We shall carry forward in our life two honourable and historic understandings of marriage –  one which sees the marriage of same sex couples as an expression of Christ-like acceptance and welcome –  and another which says that the traditional view of marriage is God-ordained and scripturally defined. That is the journey. That is now the calling of this church.”

The vote followed a debate at synod. Ian Ferguson of the diocese of Orkney said introducing the change: “would be like saying Jesus got it wrong. It is beyond belief to say that Jesus was only talking to the times that he lived in. We will be disobeying Jesus; changing the doctrine of marriage is a schismatic move that will damage our relations with our sisters and brothers throughout the AC. “

Stephen Townsend of the diocese of Aberdeen argued: “We are all agreed that this church has but one head – Jesus Christ.   Are we saying that we, the body of Christ, have a different view on marriage to Christ our head? If we don’t adhere to his teaching we are not the church of Jesus Christ at all.”

However, those in favour argued it was about acceptance and love. Victoria Stock of the diocese of Edinburgh expressed the pain of exclusion she has felt in the past: “I do believe Jesus would be telling us just to get on with it. This vote isn’t about one side winning or triumphing against another. It’s about reaching out to one another…..unity is about stepping outside ourselves and seeing the other; we the Scottish Episcopal Church have something special to offer the world. We can offer generosity of heart.”


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