Anglican Communion Secretary General responds to Scottish Episcopal Church vote to allow same-sex marriage

June 8, 2017

[Episcopal News Service] The Scottish Episcopal Church voted June 8 to amend canon law to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church. The vote required a two-thirds margin in each house: bishops, clergy and laity. Clergy wishing to perform same-sex marriages will need to “opt-in,” according to a BBC report.

Scotland legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. The Scottish church’s vote puts it at odds with most of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church made canonical and liturgical changes allowing for marriage equality in 2015, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage that same year.

After the June 8 vote, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, issued this statement followed by a Q and A:

“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.”

Some Questions and Answers

Q:  What does the change in canon law mean?

A:   It removes the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Q:  When will the changes come into force?

A:  The changes come into force 40 days after the end of General Synod – in late July.

Q:  Who will be affected?

A:  This applies only to marriage within the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Church of Scotland – which is a separate entity – is also considering changing its laws on marriage but has not done so yet.

Q:  What about the rest of the UK?

A: The Church of England, the Church in Wales and the Church of Ireland are the other Anglican churches within the UK. The canon law on marriage in all three is unchanged: none is able by [canon] law to marry couples of the same sex and their teaching is the same as before.

Q:  Will any measures be taken against the Scottish Episcopal Church now?

A: The primates’ meeting in Canterbury in October will consider how the Anglican Communion should respond. No action will be taken before then.

Q:  Isn’t this is a further sign that the Anglican Communion is bound to split?

A: There is a very strong desire within the Communion to remain together – there is so much that we hold in common. The Task Group, which was set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury last year, is dedicated to maintaining conversation between us and restoring relationships and trust where they have been damaged. That work will continue.

Q: What do you think of Gafcon’s plan to appoint a missionary bishop for Scotland

A: We note the planned appointment. We will not be commenting on it at this stage.

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