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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Catholic Church divides religion and politics over gay marriage

The Catholic Church and its allies have launched a full-scale war against proposals to allow gay marriage in Scotland, trying to manipulate and intimidate the Government and creating both a religious and political divide.

First Minister Alex Salmond met with Catholic Bishop Tartaglia who threatened a rift between Church and Government if gay marriage is legalised. Cardinal Keith O’Brien said that legislation would be a betrayal ofScotland’s 750,000 Catholics.

The Church has now stepped up its campaign and sent 100,000 ‘protest cards’ to its parishioners and asked them to sign a declaration against gay marriage. Archbishop Conti of Glasgowissued a statement complaining about ‘the modern preoccupation with human rights’. The religious group Solas and the Free Church have joined them, along with former SNP leader Gordon Wilson – whose comments about gay marriage being a “danger to Scotland” were described by Labour MSP Drew Smith as “peculiar rants”.

The Catholic Church may be seriously over-estimating its influence as only 11% of Catholics think “homosexual acts are morally wrong”. Their influence is more likely to be the reverse: Catholics are more socially liberal than the population as a whole. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the attempt to sway Catholics was an “affront” and pointed out that 61% of people support gay marriage according to the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey.

Until recently Scotland was socially very conservative. But the pace of increasing acceptability for gay relationships has been extraordinarily rapid. The proportion of the population that thinks same sex relationships are always wrong has halved from 39% in the ten years to 2010.

NSS Honorary Associate Patrick Harvie MSP said “There are people in Scotland whose religion motivates them to devote their time to making this world a better place for everyone; issues from global poverty and climate change, to the peace movement and protection for asylum seekers. It’s truly sad that with this deeply negative campaign, a handful of cardinals can undermine that work by pretending that the great moral issues of our age are all about who goes to bed with whom, or whether gay people should be treated equally”.

Other religious groups support gay marriage including a coalition of Unitarians, Liberal Jews, Quakers, the Metropolitan Church and the Pagan Federation. Reverend Holdsworth, the openly gay reverend of an Episcopal church in Scotland has hit back at anti-gay Catholic leaders, saying: “To behave as though bishops carry some kind of block vote to Holyrood, to threaten politicians and to decry those who want access to the dignity of marriage as unnatural, to say these things seems to me to go too far. Such comments from the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have left me feeling embarrassed as a Christian.” Catholic leaders and the Anglican hierarchy tend to be much more “orthodox” than those in their pews, and especially the many more cultural Christians who have left their pews for ever.

The Scottish Government has launched a 14-week consultation on a change to laws that allow same-sex couples to enter a civil partnership, but bans the ceremony from taking place in a church or other religious premises. A similar consultation has taken place in England, but the Anglican and Catholic Churches have pressed for central control of whether churches can be used for such ceremonies, clearly terrified that, without the long arm of the law to enforce their unpopular doctrine, it will be flouted.

In England, David Cameron fully backs gay marriage, but many in the Party disagree with him. Christian Tory Councillor James Malliff commented on Twitter “There is no doubt the PM is wrong on this issue. We may as well legalise marriage with animals, crude I concede but no apology.’’ He has been suspended.

Published Fri, 14 Oct 2011