Scottish General Synod moves towards accepting same-sex marriage

Bp David Chillingworth

Scottish Primus David Chillingworth

Posted 17 June 2016

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church last week passed a first reading of a change to its Canon on marriage (Canon 31) to remove from it the doctrinal statement regarding marriage that it is to be understood as a union “of one man and one woman”.

A first reading of the change is the first step in a process and does not represent a final decision.

The proposed change now passes from the General Synod to the Church’s seven dioceses for discussion and comment in their diocesan synods in the coming year.

The opinions from the dioceses will then be relayed back to the General Synod which will be invited to give a second reading of the Canon in June 2017.

At that stage, for a second reading to be passed, it must achieve a majority of two- thirds in the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity within the General Synod.

The change to the Canon would include a conscience clause ensuring that clergy opposed to the change are not required to marry people of the same sex.

Commenting on the first reading today, the Rt Revd Dr Gregor Duncan, Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway and Acting Convener of the Church’s Faith and Order Board, said: “General Synod last year engaged in extensive debate in relation to possible changes to our Canon on marriage. It asked the Board to bring forward canonical legislation this year to remove from the Canon any doctrinal statement regarding marriage. That would pave the way for clergy of the Church who wish to be able to solemnise weddings between people of the same sex.

“Synod has this year accepted the proposals brought forward by the Board by giving a first reading to the canonical change. The process will now continue and not be completed until General Synod 2017. If second reading is agreed at that stage, the change to the Canon will take effect.

“The Synod’s decision this year is important because it represents the beginning of a formal process of canonical change. The Church has been engaged in recent years in a series of discussions at all levels. The current process will enable the Church come to a formal decision on the matter.

“Views within the Church are, of course, wide and diverse. The passing of the first reading today will bring great joy to some; for others it will be matter of great difficulty. The wording of the proposed change recognises that there are differing views of marriage within our Church and we have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to sustain our unity in the midst of our diversity.”

The voting was as follows (percentages of vote for and against): Bishops, 71.4% to 28.6%; Clergy, 69.4% to 30.6%; Laity, 80.3% to 19.7%.


Addressing the General Synod on the previous day, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop David Chillingworth, referred to the Primates’ Meeting of last January: “You will have seen the Communiqué and the ‘consequences’ which that meeting decided to impose on The Episcopal Church of the United States.

“The primary question in your minds will be this: ‘And will the same consequences or sanctions apply to us if we approve the proposals for canonical change in respect of marriage in 2016 and 2017?’”

He clarified the Primates’ decision: “In respect of The Episcopal Church of the United States and its decision to change its Canons to allow same-sex marriage, this is what they said: ‘It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However, given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.’”

Bishop Chillingworth said that, two weeks previously, he had gone to London and met with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, specifically to ask if this would also apply to the Scottish Episcopal Church if it completes the process of canonical change in 2017.

The Primus stated: “The answer is that it will. Most directly, I will be removed from the role of Anglican Co-Chair of the International Anglican-Reformed Dialogue. But other effects are limited. Our bishops will be present and fully involved in the Lambeth Conference planned for 2020. We shall continue to be actively involved in our network of Diocesan Companionships and in the Anglican Networks.”