An entire church denomination is now considering whether it will continue performing marriages at all, rather than face a slew of lawsuits from homosexual couples demanding to be wed.
The Church of Scotland, or the Kirk as it is called, is the reported affiliation of over 42 percent of the Scottish population, but its churches would face a crisis of conscience should the Scottish Parliament pass a pending bill that would redefine marriage to include homosexual unions.
The Church of Scotland opposes same-sex marriage, and the Reverend Alan Hamilton of the Kirk’s Legal Questions Committee warned the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee that the proposed legislation would “fundamentally change” the nature of the institution in Scottish culture.
“We’re also concerned that this is an invitation to take religious bodies in particular through the court system,” he said. “We’re voluntary bodies; we rely on giving donations through our members. The thought of years of exhausting legal challenge, which is also incredibly expensive, is really very concerning.”
Therefore, Hamilton said, the Kirk asked his Legal Questions Committee to evaluate whether the Church of Scotland could even continue to perform legal weddings should the bill pass.
The Church of Scotland also said in a statement there are no plans to stop conducting marriages at the moment, but the findings of Hamilton’s committee will come before the denomination’s General Assembly in 2015.
“As politicians consider the bill, the Church of Scotland asks for space for itself and for its ministers to decide whether to celebrate same-sex marriages,” Hamilton said. “We are simply urging that any legislation if approved is robust enough to protect those who in conscience will not want to conduct such ceremonies.”
The Catholic Church in Scotland said it was also fearful of the threat of legal action.
“The Reverend Alan Hamilton is absolutely right to raise serious concerns over the prospects of churches being challenged in court as a result of the passing of the bill,” a church spokesman told The Scotsman. “This bill constitutes the most serious threat to religious liberty in Scotland in living memory. Churches and religious bodies will be vulnerable to challenge and legal attack. Forcing society to accept same-sex marriage in the face of majority opposition is unnecessary, unwanted and undemocratic.”
The Scottish government, however, is insisting the bill contains “very clear and robust protections” for churches and pastors.
“Religious bodies will have to opt in for their celebrants to be able to solemnize same-sex marriages,” a spokesman said. “Should a body choose to opt in, there is no obligation on any individual celebrant of that body to take part.”
Scotland’s organized humanists are among those supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage and have stated at this point they’re only reluctantly agreeing to a conscience clause in the legislation.
“It is an accommodation we are prepared to make,” said Ross Wright of Humanist Society Scotland, according to Scotland’s Daily Record. “It is giving freedom to discriminate, which we are not happy with. But for the sake of getting this bill passed, we will concede it.”