The Scottish Catholic Education Commission is insisting that the Scottish Government proposals for marriage equality will make it impossible for teachers in Catholic schools to teach about marriage in line with Catholic marriage doctrines, and it opposes any church or faith in Scotland being allowed to offer lesbian and gay weddings if they want to.
This follows the English and Welsh Catholic Education Service (CES) being put under investigation by officials of Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, for political campaigning against marriage equality because the CES asked schools to persuade pupils to sign a political petition on marriage.
The Scottish Catholic Education Commission has used the Scottish Herald to trumpet its views opposing the marriage equality plans of the Scottish government, a few days before Michael Russell, the Scottish Education Secretary, speaks at the annual conference of the Catholic Headteachers’ Association of Scotland.
Churches can Choose to Celebrate Marriages
The Scottish Government’s consultation asks whether the law should allow churches to hold lesbian and gay weddings if the Church wants to. Currently, lesbian and gay couples can form a civil partnership, but in Scotland the ceremony cannot be held in a church or other religious premises. [The law is different in England and Wales, where Civil Partnerships can now be held in Churches that choose to offer to host these].
The Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland are reported in the Scottish Herald to oppose holding lesbian and gay weddings in any Churches or faith premises.
So where’s the problem for Catholic Churches?
The Scottish government’s proposals say they have no intention of compelling any church or minister to hold lesbian and gay weddings at all. The Scottish consultation makes this very clear:
Religious bodies and religious celebrants
3.23 The Government does not consider that religious bodies should be obliged to solemnise same sex marriage against their will. The points and discussion here are very similar to the issues in relation to the registration of civil partnerships. They are repeated here for clarity and also because some consultees may have different views on issues in relation to marriage when compared with civil partnerships.
3.24 The Government recognises that many religious bodies consider marriage to be a unique bond between a man and a woman. The Government recognises, therefore, that some religious bodies would have strong objections to solemnising same sex marriage. As a result, we consider that religious bodies should not be required to solemnise same sex marriage.
Do you agree that religious bodies should not be required to solemnise same sex marriage?
Religions could choose to celebrate lesbian and gay weddings (this is for Scotland only)
The consultation suggests that if a religion does want to offer lesbian and gay marriages, it should be allowed to do so.
3.20 The detail of the proposals for Scotland could be along the following lines:
- civil same sex marriage could be solemnised by a district or assistant registrar appointed by the Registrar General in the same way as an opposite sex civil marriage;
- civil same sex marriage could take place in a registration office or at an approved place, in the same way as an opposite sex civil marriage;
- religious marriage between two people of the same sex could take place so long as the religious body and the religious celebrant were content to solemnise same sex marriage;
- religious marriage between two people of the same sex could take place in religious premises so long as the religious body responsible for the premises is content;
- religious marriage between two people of the same sex could take place at any place agreed between the celebrant and the couple, in line with the arrangements for religious marriage between two people of the opposite sex.
This would all be completely optional, but it will allow Quakers, Reform Jews, Unitarians and others who have said they would like to celebrate lesbian and gay weddings, to do this. This would have no effect on Catholic Churches or Priests saying no.
Catholic Veto over all Faiths
But the Catholic Church says they shouldn’t be allowed to, even if they want to host lesbian and gay weddings. Whose Church is it, when it doesn’t belong to the Catholic Church? Would Catholic Churches like it if Scottish Presbyterians could tell the Catholic Church what it can or cannot do in its own Churches? That would be intolerable, so why should the Catholic Church try to grab a veto on what Reform Synagogues, Quaker Meeting Houses, and Unitarian Chapels (among others) can do in their own religious buildings?
Catholic Education Service misleads
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said:
“Despite the First Minster’s [Alex Salmond's] rhetoric of support for faith communities and for denominational schools, this Government’s actions appear to be designed to undermine both. While the First Minister has expressed his admiration of Catholic schools for their moral teaching, it is ironic that this legislation attempts to set aside one major item of Christian moral teaching – the sanctity of marriage as a covenant between husband and wife. This understanding of the sanctity of marriage is divinely ordained in Church doctrine and underpins the teaching of marriage in Catholic schools across the world.”
Mr McGrath said in Scotland’s 373 Catholic schools, teachers provided opportunities for learning about the “complementarity of man and woman” and the rearing of children within the family setting “ideally with a mother and a father”.
Mr McGrath insisted:
“The [Scottish Catholic education] commission, in its response to the consultation, has expressed significant concern that, if such legislation were enacted, it would become impossible for teachers in Catholic schools to teach conscientiously, according to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, as parents expect them to do. While the right of teachers in faith schools to promote the doctrines of a school’s denominational body is recognised in the Equality Act 2010, the commission is concerned that teachers would be compelled to teach according to the policies of their employers – local councils. Such policies would certainly require the teaching of marriage as a legal contract, rather than any doctrinal understanding of marriage as a Sacrament.”
‘The Equality Act gives us the right to teach Catholic doctrine, but that’s not enough’
Mr McGrath’s words in that paragraph is waving a shroud and complaining about something that won’t happen: “the commission is concerned that teachers would be compelled to teach according to the policies of their employers – local councils. Such policies would certainly require the teaching of marriage as a legal contract, rather than any doctrinal understanding of marriage as a Sacrament.”"
But the Equality Act is very clear; faith schools have legal right to only teach their Church’s doctrine. Just because teachers are nominally employed by the local council, doesn’t cancel the Equality Act right of faith schools to teach their faith’s beliefs.
4.09 If, following this consultation, the Government should decide to move towards legislation, the Government will consult on a draft Bill. We will include an Equality Impact Assessment ( EQIA) in the consultation on the draft Bill, for consultees to comment on. The Scottish Government will meet with key parties when preparing this EQIA.
Catholic rush of blood to the head
Just as Cardinal Keith O’Brien had a rush of blood to the head in his Sunday Telegraph interview, describing lesbian and gay marriage equality as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”, as “madness” and that allowing marriage equality ‘would be similar to allowing other citizens to keep slaves’, the Scottish Catholic Education Service has had a fit of the vapours too.
The Scottish Catholic Education Service needs to lie down in a darkened room. It is manufacturing scares about things that won’t happen and while it is entitled to teach the Catholic view of marriage in its schools, it claims this is what “parents expect them to do”. The reality is that the majority of Scottish Catholic parents support marriage equality for lesbians and gay men.
One of the perennial social problems in Scotland is religious sectarianism, and doctrinaire religious education that ignores social realities and other faith beliefs help reinforce Scottish sectarianism.
Scottish Government reassures it’s still listening
A spokesman said the Scottish Government is now analysing responses to the consultation and considering what to do next. He added:
“We have given an assurance that all opinions will be listened to, no final views have been reached and therefore no decisions have been taken. The analysis of the responses will be published later in the spring.”