Equal marriage - because freedom of religion matters: Guest blog post by Jane Carnall, Information Project Coordinator, Equality Network - blog by Religion and Society, UK


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Equal marriage - because freedom of religion matters: Guest blog post by Jane Carnall, Information Project Coordinator, Equality Network
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Posted 03-Oct-2011 at 03:45 PM (15:45) by Religion and Society, UK
Updated 03-Oct-2011 at 04:52 PM (16:52) by Religion and Society, UK

The first wedding I ever remember going to was at the old Friends Meeting House in Stafford Street, Edinburgh. I was seven or eight. As Quaker weddings traditionally are, it was not extravagant – family, friends, and Friends, a silent Meeting for Worship memorable, to my child’s eyes, because instead of the row of Elders on the central bench, sat my babysitter and her boyfriend, her in a wonderful white dress with an enormous bunch of flowers, him clean-shaven in a very smart suit. All of us down to the youngest signed the marriage certificate as witnesses. (A registry officer once asked a Quaker bride and groom, as they were applying for the marriage licence, "Who will conduct the wedding ceremony?" Both of them, simultaneously and quite unpremeditated: "All of us." – "None of us.")

In their quietly rebellious way, the Religious Society of Friends declared at their Yearly Meeting in 2009 that they had been "led to treat same sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses." They affirmed that they would "take steps to put this leading into practice … so that same sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state, as opposite sex marriages are". And they declared an intention to "engage with our governments to seek a change in the relevant laws so that same sex marriages notified in this way can be recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages celebrated in our meetings."

The Unitarian Church and Liberal Judaism and the Pagan Federation have also declared their support for the freedom of same-sex couples to marry legally, in a religious ceremony according to their faith: as has the Humanist Society of Scotland.

Derek McAuley, chief officer of the British Unitarian Church, said: "As a ‘free’ church, Unitarians and Free Christians are very conscious that the state should not unduly interfere in our internal business. We also acknowledge our responsibilities as charitable organisations and as part of civil society to the wider community and the laws enacted by parliament."

The Liberal Judaism Rabbinic Conference created liturgy for same-sex commitment ceremonies in December 2005, entitled Brit Ahavah (Covenant of Love).

At a wedding this year, "both men performed the traditional glass-breaking, while specially written shevah brachot (seven blessings) were made, including the phrase Blessed is God that you cause loving companions to rejoice together, to replace the traditional blessing for a bride and groom."

It is quite clear: the ban that forbids a religious body to legally wed a couple in their faith, is against freedom of religion. Any religion must have the right to refuse to wed a couple for any reason in accordance with their faith: but conversely, religions should have the right to celebrate the wedding of a couple in accordance with the law of the land and their faith.

(In 1994 I shared an office for several months with a woman who was to be married next year, who had to hide that she was living with her fiancé in Edinburgh from her friends back home in Glen Cliché, because the good minister of her village church wouldn’t permit any couple to be married in his church if there had been premarital sexual activity. Yes, really. In 1994.)

Yet the first and the most outspoken opposition in Scotland to the consultation on same-sex marriage came from religious leaders.

Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley, claimed that any government that legalises same-sex couples getting married is committing ‘cultural vandalism’ and this would 'shame Scotland in the eyes of the world'. Well, all the world except for seven of our neighbours in Europe, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, and Iceland: also Canada, South Africa, Argentina, and Mexico: also, since we’re not likely to lift the ban in Scotland before 2014, except for European neighbours Germany and Luxembourg, Colombia and the United States in the Americas, and even Nepal, all of which countries are in discussion about equal marriage already.

Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow, said that allowing same-sex couples to marry would be "pointless" as it would not result in the creation of a "natural family". Well, we’ve heard that before. Section 28 forbade schools from teaching children about "pretended family units". As if any family could be redefined out of existance by any man, politician or archbishop, claiming that they’re "pretended" families, or "unnatural" families.

The kaleidoscope of families is almost endless, but each in their own way hold onto beliefs about the family and what it stands for. A family, whatever the makeup, is about love and care and watching out for each other. I heard from Molly, now in her eightieth year: ‘I am an old lady now, but I do know this. Families are all about care and must be a place to protect the young and the old, and the sick. The family may not be as recognizable as it once was, but it still thrives in a variety of ways. As well as the old, there are new patterns, and we must learn to recognize them and to support and to value them.’

And Cardinal Keith O'Brien appealed directly to MSPs to oppose the proposed reform, claiming that while his Church esteemed the institution of marriage as "the most stable building block upon which any family can rest", still it would "rewrite human nature" to allow same-sex couples access to this "foundational building block of society". The Cardinal portrayed two men or two women marrying, whether in a registry office or in a Quaker meeting or at St Mark’s on Castle Terrace or under a chuppah breaking a wineglass and blessing God for loving companions, as a "direct attack" which the good Cardinal said would be "strenuously opposed".

Sadly none of this is new. In the United States, conservative Christianity has been battling the freedom to marry for decades, and there are certain patterns to this argument. I found a full example of them laid out nicely by a man who can’t understand why his very best arguments against lifting the ban on same-sex couples marrying just don’t work: Now, I happen to believe these are good arguments and that they should be persuasive, even among those who don’t feel that homosexual behavior is immoral or unnatural. But, in practice, I find that the arguments don’t persuade anyone who is not already convinced.

In the words of Patrick Harvie’s amendment on equal marriage in August this year: it "would be both right and popular for secular and religious Scots alike to be free to reach their own view on the legal status that is right for their own relationship".

Let the Bishop of Paisley and the Archbishop of Glasgow and the Cardinal of Scotland agree together that they must not, under any circumstances, enter into a same-sex marriage themselves with anyone, nor allow any Catholic priest in Scotland to celebrate a marriage between two men, no matter if they are as close as Philip and Bartholomew, or two women, even if they are as devoted as Ruth and Naomi. That’s their right in a free country: to declare that such marriages are not valid in a Catholic church, no more than a marriage of two divorced people.

But it’s not their right in a free country to tell the Religious Society of Friends or the Humanist Society of Scotland or the Unitarian Church or the Pagan Federation or Sukkat Shalom or any other religious body what they should do. Nor is it their right to ban a pair of gay Catholics from having a civil marriage in the local registry office.

Cardinal O’Brien also accused ministers of being "disingenuous" and of "staggering arrogance" because the Scottish Government was strongly of the view that no church would be obliged to solemnise marriages of same-sex couples.

Remind me: when was the last time a Catholic priest was obliged to solemnise the marriage of a divorced couple? Or a rabbi was obliged against their will to solemnise the marriage of a Gentile and a Jew? Or a Quaker meeting was obliged to solemnise a regimental wedding with gunfire?[

Not going to happen.

In no country, anywhere in the world where same-sex marriage has been made legal, has the Catholic Church ever been obliged to solemnise the marriage of a same-sex couple.

If you care about freedom of religion, write to the Scottish Government and tell them you support equal marriage for same-sex couples.

Jane Carnall is the Information Project Coordinator of the Equality Network. She is now an atheist but was brought up as a Quaker, and still sometimes enjoys a nice quiet Friends Meeting for peace, thoughtful silence, and Fair Trade coffee afterwards.

Comments from guests are very welcome - the answer to the "random question" is always "human", no quotation marks.
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  1. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar

    Guest blog post by Jane Carnall: Equal marriage - freedom of religion http://goo.gl/f3uve #LGBT #religion #atheism #Scotland #UKpolitics
    Posted 03-Oct-2011 at 04:02 PM (16:02) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  2. Old Comment
    lifelinking's Avatar
    Tremendous Blog Jane - thank you so much.

    Lifelinking, aka Des Fik
    Posted 03-Oct-2011 at 04:23 PM (16:23) by lifelinking lifelinking is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Never's Avatar
    Great post. Sums up my feeling on the subject quite well except the participants in the debate are a bit different in the US, as you noted.
    Posted 04-Oct-2011 at 04:05 AM (04:05) by Never Never is offline
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Equal marriage – because freedom of religion matters | ahamsa

03-Oct-2011, 11:18 PM (23:18)
ed tone incredibly helpful. Here, as a guest blogger at Heathen Hub, she turns her attention to the consultation on equal marriage in Scotland, and the support and opposition to it from different religious groups. She sums my feelings up exac

The power of love | Edinburgh Eye

16-Mar-2012, 09:07 PM (21:07)
y, and roundly ignored them. No one should try to make this a Catholic thing, or a Christian thing, or a religious thing. It isn’t. This is a Camazotz thing. I got upset this afternoon – and have written this

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