Leading Roman Catholic churchmen in Scotland have lined up to condemn the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on marriage equality.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched a paper seeking views on the issue of same-sex marriages and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. The government has said that its initial view is that same-sex marriage should be introduced, but that faith groups who did not want to solemnise gay marriages should not be made to do so.
In a letter to the Herald newspaper last week, Mario Conti, the Archbishop of Glasgow, claimed that marriage would become meaningless as a concept if it was defined in any other way than as a relationship that has the “capacity to create a natural family”.
He was answered in the Letters page by Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network, who asked whether Conti wished, “to ban marriage between men and women who are unable to conceive a child.” David French from Edinburgh also suggested, tongue firmly in cheek, that the Archbishop back his call for mandatory fertility tests before marriage.
Philip Tartaglia, the Bishop of Paisley, said at the weekend that a Scottish government which backed same-sex marriage did not deserve the support of the Catholic community.
And, writing in an article for the Mail On Sunday, Cardinal Keith O’Brien claimed that a change in the law would mean that the government, “will have forfeited the trust which the nation, including many in the Catholic community, have placed in them and their intolerance will shame Scotland in the eyes of the world.”
Perhaps the strangest claim made by the Church is that allowing gay marriage would breach Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”
Quite how allowing gay couples to marry would breach this provision in not clear. Indeed, it could be argued that the Article can be read in such a way that every man or every woman has the right to marry – and that a ban on gay marriage is what breaches some individuals’ rights.
Clearly this is an issue where feelings are running high. The Catholic Church takes the view that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman. Indeed Cardinal O’Brien argues that no government has the right to legislate on the issue.
But the definition of marriage has, of course, changed many times. Marriages between those of different races were once outlawed in many places, and it is not too long since there could be no such thing as rape within marriage. If a society is to progress then it must continue to change and evolve.
It seems that the proposed opt out for faith groups would not be sufficient for Catholic Church leaders. They are entitled to their views like anyone else, but cannot seek to force those views on a country where the majority would appear to be in favour of change.
If 60% of Scots are in favour of marriage equality then our politicians should reflect that and legislate accordingly.
The consultation period runs until 9 December. And, if the end result is a proposal to change the law then the arguments could go on a great deal longer.
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