Many media outlets celebrated the “first same-sex church wedding” in the UK this week.
And while their intentions may have been good, and despite that Peter Matthews and Alistair Dinnie did marry in the Scottish Episcopal Church’s first same-sex ceremony, this was not the first same-sex church wedding in the UK by quite a stretch.
The Church of England and Church in Wales are both legally banned from carrying out same-sex weddings, but the Scottish branch of Anglicanism, the Scottish Episcopal Church, is not bound by the same laws.
In a break from traditional Anglican teachings, the Scottish church voted to permit same-sex weddings this year after bishops, clergy and laity all overwhelmingly supported the change.
And various news outlets such as the Daily Mail celebrated the event as the first same-sex church wedding to take place in the UK.
But other denominations, such as the Unitarians and the Metropolitan have held blessings for same-sex couples for years and both opted to allow same-sex couples in England and Wales after the law changed in 2013.
The first legal same-sex wedding to take place in a religious venue actually took place in April 2014, after the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act took effect.
Jan Tipper and Barb Burden, both long-time members of the church, married in Bournemouth at a branch of the Metropolitan Church.
At the time, a spokesperson for the Church said: “We have been offering wedding services for same-sex couples for many years in our church because we believe that God blesses the love of two people no matter what their gender.”
The Unitarian Church has also welcomed LGBT+ people for years, and despite not being able to offer legally binding marriage ceremonies before the 2013 Act, have offered blessings for years.
The Unitarian Chief Officer Derek McAuley wrote for PinkNews on the day same-sex marriages became legal in England and Wales to celebrate the change.
But that is not to say that the bold move by the Scottish Episcopal Church should not be celebrated, along with the union of Mr Matthews and Mr Dinnie.
Deep divisions have arisen in the global Anglican church over LGBT issues, with a stark contrast between teachings in largely pro-LGBT Western churches and hardline anti-gay Anglican churches in Africa and the Global South.
In an attempt to keep the Anglican Communion from splintering, the Archbishop of Canterbury even dolled out a ‘punishment’ for the US Episcopal Church in 2016, accusing it of making “a fundamental departure from [Anglican] faith and teaching” by allowing its clergy to perform same-sex marriages.
The Scottish church is expected to face a similar ‘punishment’ ahead of a meeting of Anglican Communion leaders next week.
Nigerian archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, previously said he would pursue the issue.
He said in a statement: “There are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion but this puts the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with the majority stance that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
“This is a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage.”
He added: “The primates of the Communion will be meeting in Canterbury in October. I am sure [the] decision will be among the topics which will be prayerfully discussed.
“There will be no formal response to the SEC’s vote until the primates have met.”
The Guardian reports that the Scottish church will “face de facto sanctions” from the body.
Despite repeated concessions attempting to hold it together, the Anglican Communion is already in a state of disarray and is unlikely to ever heal its rifts.
The Communion had been due to hold its once-a-decade meeting of global bishops, known as a Lambeth Conference, in 2018.
However, the Conference was delayed over fears that there would be a boycott from hardline bishops.
It is now tentatively scheduled for 2020, but it is still unclear whether key African bishops will be attending.
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The last Lambeth Conference to actually be held, in 2008, was also boycotted over LGBT rights.
Even the primates meeting set to take place next week will see a smaller-scale boycott.
The Archbishop of Uganda Stanley Ntagali is among bishops planning to boycott the meeting.
Ntagali, who has egged on laws across Africa implementing harsh punishments for homosexuality, said he was not prepared to tolerate people with “an unbiblical view of marriage”.
Ahead of the meeting, Welby had written to the primates from around the world to insist that the Church of England remains opposed to same-sex marriage.
He wrote: “I certainly feel the need to be with you, to share our experience and in prayer and fellowship, to support one another and seek how best we can serve the call to preach the gospel, serve the poor and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said: “I support the Bishops’ declaration that doctrine on marriage should not change – that marriage should be a lifelong commitment between a man and woman.
“The Anglican Communion position is set out [opposing same-sex marriage]. That is our lodestar.”