Heartache, Marriage Equality and St Andrews

Today is a day of celebration. For same sex couples both in the UK and in the USA, things are looking up. Firstly, in America yesterday the Supreme Court struck down Doma – the defense of marriage act – ruling it unconstitutional. This is a huge step forward for married same sex couples across the country, whose marriages will be recognised at a federal level for the first time ever. Add the dismissal of the appeal against marriage equality in California, and the LGBT community in the USA are right to be celebrating. Here in the UK, things are positive too. Here in Scotland, the Same Sex Marriage bill has been published – one of the last steps in a long road to marriage equality for the Scottish people. The UK is getting there – by 2015, same sex couples should be able to marry, both in England and Wales (under the legislation proposed by Westminster) and in Scotland (under the Holyrood’s legislation). 

Scotland Equal Marriage Celebration June 27th 2013 - I support equal marriage

So things are looking good! Stacey and I are not engaged (although it is something we’ve kinda talked about, a little) but there’s this tacit understanding that if we get engaged, it will be engaged to be married  – not engaged to be civil partnered and that makes me happy. However, it’s not really that simple. (When is it ever?!)

I’ve talked before about how much I love St Andrews. The first time I arrived in that little town, I feel in love. For four years, it was home and family and friends and good times and bad ones and it was my place. When Stacey and I met there, fell in love there, it only cemented my feelings about the place. It was serendipity that I went to St Andrews, and so many of the good things  in my life have come from seeds planted in that coastal Fife town.

It shouldn’t surprise anybody that if I ever get married, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world other than St Andrews. I dream about wedding photos with the Cathedral in the background; walking down West Sands in a wedding dress; kissing my wife at the fountain on Market Street where we kissed for the first time, ever. St Andrews is the place I love more than anywhere else. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect setting to promise to be hers for the rest of my life.

Carley and Mum Graduation St Salvator's Quad

And weddings in St Andrews are beautiful. As a student, I saw a fair few brides on their wedding day in the town. Decorated bridal cars, bouquets thrown from the top of steps, happy relatives ducking into hotel rooms to grab hankies. It’s one of those towns which just seems made for love and romance. If you’re a graduate of the university, weddings are even more special. Whilst there are other wedding venues (mostly hotels) in the town, the majority of St Andrews weddings take place in one of the many churches, if you’re not connected to the university. And if you’re a St Andrews alum? The wedding venue of choice is almost always St Salvator’s Chapel.

St Andrews Raisin Weekend the foam fight in Sallies Quad

Set in the middle of St Salvator’s Quad, Sallies Chapel is nestled pretty much in the heart of the university. The quad itself holds a raft of memories for me – it’s where the foam fight of Raisin Weekend takes place, where I spent long hours revising on the grass in the sun, where I met my parents for the first time after graduating. It’s beautiful – all stone pillars and cloisters, a grassy square surrounded by buildings I had classes and exams and tutorials in. And the chapel is similarly beautiful – pews facing the aisle, a huge, beautiful alter – I have enjoyed a number of services in this building, and have sat outside in protest once before also.

St Salvador’s Chapel is a stunning wedding venue. One that I would love to consider for my own wedding – but one which is off limits. There are rules around who can get married here – couples need to have a connection to the town, or to the university in order to be considered. But it’s more than that, too. The chapel is a religious building, although it isn’t tied to a specific denomination. That’s what allows ministers from different faiths (Catholic, Scottish Episcopal Church, the University Chaplain etc) to preach there, despite their differing opinions and backgrounds. Marriages which occur in the chapel can be performed by a minister from a number of religions – the guideline says that:

“The Council agreed that only denominations who were members of, associates of, or in agreement with the aims of the World Council of Churches might be granted the use of the Chapels for services.”

What does this mean? Pretty much that only widely recognised Christian denominations can perform marriage ceremonies in St Salvador’s Chapel.

A wedding at St Salvator's Chapel, St Andrews

This leads me to a difficult place. I want to get married in St Andrews. I’d love to get married in a venue which is part of the university, a place where my history and the university’s history come together so that my future and the university’s future are at the same point, just for a while. But the options for venues for non-religious marriage ceremonies are nothing like Sallies Chapel – Parliament Hall is a brilliant space, but I struggle to see it as anything but a place for debates. Upper and Lower College Hall’s are stunning – but more of a reception venue than a place for a ceremony. Trying to work out how a same sex couple could marry in St Andrews is hard.

There are two possibilities for the future, for my dream (at-least-partially-religious) wedding in St Andrews. The first is that once marriage equality is law, there’s a change in the canon law of one of the Christian denominations here in Scotland. I’ve talked before about my reluctance to return to religion because I haven’t yet found a church who I feel supports and loves me, but reading the blog of Kelvin Holdsworth (Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow) has started to reassure me that there is a possibility for me to be both gay and Christian. Maybe something will change. Maybe the Scottish Episcopal Church will change canon law. Maybe I will find a way back to religion and become one of those voices clamoring for clarity in what Christian ministers can and can’t do.

St Salvaor's Quad St Andrews at Dusk

But maybe they won’t. Maybe I will never be able to celebrate my love in a church, even though I 100% believe that my God loves me just as much as my remarried mother, just as much as my straight brother. And if that is the case, then I guess I’ll petition the university to allow me to do something different, do something completely new. If I cannot be married in the same chapel as my friends and other graduates of the university, I’ll ask if they will let me be married outside it. An outdoor wedding ceremony on the grass in the quad; outside the chapel and the buildings where I studied and went to classes and took exams – it wouldn’t be a marriage in the eyes of God, but it would be close enough.


Leave a Reply