The following is a copy of the letter I sent to the 22 MSPs whose constituencies fall within the area of our diocese.
30 January 2014
I write to you regarding the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, aware that it is to be voted on next Tuesday.
My concerns, which are those of the Catholic community and of many others in Scotland, are of two kinds.
Firstly, approval of this Bill will do something more and other than allow homosexual couples to marry. It will legally redefine marriage and thus affect the general social understanding of that institution. It seems to me that a serious “category mistake” is being made here. Human beings can come together, obviously, in a whole spectrum of relationships, and there is nothing to prevent two persons of the same sex living together permanently. The current arrangements for Civil Partnerships provide for this. This however is not marriage. It is a friendship, relationship, partnership. The concept and legal recognition of marriage has hitherto and rightly referred to the union of a man and woman from which children will normally spring. It seems to me beyond the power of any Parliament to alter this, and the ideological basis on which this change is being introduced comes across as flimsy in the extreme. The laudable intent of combating undesirable forms of discrimination and guaranteeing equality is not applicable here. A sexual partnership of two persons of the same sex is simply not “equal” in its content to the marriage of a man and a woman. It is different. This observation is distinct from any ethical consideration of such partnerships, nor is it particularly ‘faith-based’. It is simply maintaining that to allow SSM is to muddy language and confuse categories. I would therefore hope that you would not endorse this. At the very least, the matter requires further thought.
My second concern is less immediately ‘abstract’. It is not unlikely that this legislation will pass. Could I therefore urge you to propose or support amendments which ensure that those who maintain that marriage is uniquely the union of a man and woman (‘traditional marriage) are ensured respect? There is a widespread attitude that accuses those unsympathetic to the proposed legislation of bigotry or homophobia. This is seriously unjust, and a very real concern. It is an irony that a measure aimed at preventing a perceived injustice to a small minority threatens to provoke fresh injustices to a far larger percentage of the population.
In practical terms, my concerns would be that:
- those churches or faith-communities whose principles cannot allow same-sex marriage are guaranteed their freedom and protected against possible litigation, and do not have their charitable status threatened;
- those who uphold traditional marriage are allowed to pass on their understanding of marriage to children, most notably in faith schools;
- they not suffer discrimination in their career or workplace, nor have their freedom of speech restricted, are not denied access to public services or prevented fostering or adopting children.
Sometimes we are assured that these freedoms are already sufficiently guaranteed by law. But others question this. The general climate is not reassuring. It would therefore be a real reassurance for those dismayed by this proposed legislation to have their concerns met within the legislation itself.
Thank you for reading this letter. I am only too aware that, in this whole question, more is being asked of our legislators than is right, and wish to assure you of my good wishes and prayers for you as these decisions come your way.
Hugh Gilbert OSB
Bishop of Aberdeen