Scottish Episcopal Church takes first step towards gay marriage

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) The Scottish Episcopal Church may become the first major church in the United Kingdom to allow its clergy to conduct same-sex weddings in churches.

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, meeting in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, passed on first reading a change to its canon law definition of marriage Friday (June 10).

The change deletes a doctrinal statement that says marriage is to be understood as a union “of one man and one woman.”

The proposed change now passes from the General Synod to the church’s seven dioceses for discussion and comment in the coming year. For a second reading to be passed, it must achieve a majority of two-thirds among bishops, clergy and laity within the General Synod. The change would include a conscience clause ensuring that clergy opposed to the change are not required to marry people of the same sex.

The first gay weddings could take place in or soon after June 2017.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Scotland in 2014, but the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), the Catholic Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church (Anglican) remained opposed.

At last year’s synod, a vote asking the church’s theological doctrine committee to examine the grounds for permitting same-sex weddings was passed.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is the country’s third largest with about 60,000 members. It was the national church of Scotland until 1689 when it was replaced by the Church of Scotland.

The Scottish Episcopal Church may face sanctions from the Anglican Communion, as happened in January this year when Anglican archbishops met in Canterbury and voted to impose sanctions for three years on the Episcopal Church, its American branch, following its decision to allow clergy to conduct same-sex weddings in churches.