The Scottish Episcopal Church has voted to delete reference to “man” and “woman” in its official understanding of marriage, risking sanctions from the Anglican Communion.
In a vote on Friday, the Church took a major step towards conducting same-sex marriages in its buildings. A further vote is necessary before the decision is finalised.
Earlier this year the US Episcopal Church was suspended from the Anglican Communion for three years for “a fundamental departure from the faith” over marriage.
Following the Scottish vote, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, said the majority view across Anglican churches is that “marriage is the lifelong union of a man and woman”.
The Episcopal Church’s decision came at its General Synod, with support from five of the seven bishops, nearly 70 per cent of the clergy and 80 per cent of non-clergy who voted. There were three abstentions.
Currently, it describes marriage as a “physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto”, and that it is a “holy and lifelong estate instituted of God”.
The proposed new wording removes reference to “man” and “woman” and speaks of “differing understandings of the nature of marriage in this Church”.
It would also introduce a clause for ministers in the Church who do not want to carry out marriage services “against their conscience”.
Speaking after the vote, the Church’s Rt Revd Dr Gregor Duncan said: “Views within the Church are, of course, wide and diverse. The passing of the first reading today will bring great joy to some; for others it will be matter of great difficulty.”
Last year evangelical ministers in the Church of England (C of E) gave their strong support for the Biblical definition of marriage, following controversial comments by the Bishop of Buckingham.
The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, had said that the Church’s definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman was “lousy”.
But evangelical C of E ministers criticised his comments with Revd Will Stileman saying: “The version of marriage he espouses is incompatible with Biblical Christianity”.