Sensus Fidelium

Jonathan and David

My best friend from primary school wedded a few years ago. I was very fond of her, and we often thought we would get married. Years apart in different secondary schools and then colleges meant we drifted away. In the decade or so since I last saw her, she met a woman, and they got a civil partnership. While I mourned for the marriage I imagined as a wee boy that was not to be, and was a bit broken-hearted for a while, I was thrilled that her partner was so lovely: the two were a great match. One of my great regrets is that I didn’t attend their wedding: by the time I found out about it, they were already in a civil partnership. I met them for the first time in ages last night.

The Marriage & Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill was of great interest to me. As I’ve said elsewhere, I was raised Catholic, and live in an area with an active Parish community. I’ve thus been steeped in a lot of Catholic doctrine & philosophy. But while I won’t talk about my personal opinion of marriage equality (it’s too long and complicated even for one of my long posts) I do think it’s worth looking at the state of the debate as it is.

Much is made of Brian Souter’s patronage of the SNP, given that not only is he a millionaire, he also campaigned strongly against the bill. Opponents stated that the SNP were vulnerable to lobbying from Mr Souter, calling into question their dedication to equality and promotion of LGBT rights.


As a result, Catholicism is frequently placed on the “against” side of equal marriage – yet there is a foundation for civil partnership in Catholic theological tradition that goes all the way back to the 12th Century and even earlier, and there are several strong cases made by Catholics for marriage equality. Indeed, my mother’s studied the liturgy so thoroughly she could make cases for and against at the same time! Much like members of the Orange Order who support Scottish independence, sometimes things aren’t quite as clear-cut in life as you’d expect.

The most significant objection to gay marriage from a Catholic perspective is theological: it deals with the sacrament of marriage itself, and the freedom of Catholics to worship as they wish without interference from the state. However, the provisions of the bill made it absolutely clear that the Scottish government not wish to infringe upon Church teachings on this – supernatural law such as sacramentality is distinct from the common law of the land.

(1D)For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in subsection (1B)(a) or (1C)(a)

(a) imposes a duty on any religious or belief body to make a request referred to in subsection (1C)(a);
(b) imposes a duty on any such body to nominate under section 9 any of its members to be registered as empowered to solemnise marriages between persons of the same sex;
(c) imposes a duty on any person to apply for temporary authorisation under section 12 to solemnise marriages between persons of the same sex;
(d) imposes a duty on any person who is an approved celebrant in relation to marriages between persons of the same sex to solemnise such marriages.

The question of whether Catholic laws should extend to LGBT individuals is a matter for the Catholic Church itself, and it is far from a settled matter – it wasn’t so long ago, after all, that mass was conducted entirely in Latin. In any case, the issue of marriage equality – be it in Scottish law or Catholic law – is too complex for this particular blog. What matters is who voted for the bill?

One of the great things about Holyrood’s list system is that you can directly compare how the MSPs of different parties in your region voted on any one subject. At one point, Greenock & Inverclyde arguably had three MSPs: Duncan McNeil, Ross Finnie, and of course Stuart McMillan all contested Greenock & Inverclyde in 2007, and all were ultimately elected – Mr McNeil for the constituency, and Messrs McMillan & Finnie to the West of Scotland list. All 7 of the West Scotland MSPs represent Greenock & Inverclyde as a part of that region, even if they did not contest the constituency itself. So how did they vote?

Neil Bibby
Jackson Carlaw
Mary Fee
Annabelle Goldie
Stewart Maxwell
Margaret McDougall
Stewart McMillan


Did Not Vote:
Margaret McDougall

(Ms McDougall was not present for the main vote, but she did vote “in agreement of the general principles” of the bill in an earlier motion)

So every MSP, representing every party elected to the West Scotland region, voted in the bill’s favour at some point in the process, and almost every one voted in the final stage. Of those who voted against, 8 were from the UK government’s party (53.3% of their MSPs), 7 were SNP (10.9%), and 3 from the opposition party (7.9%). That final stage was voted in 105-18, the third largest majority for marriage equality legislation in the world, and reflective of the latest polls which show a majority of Scots support it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Sensus Fidelium as “the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” It may not be truly democratic in that the people do not elect priests or bishops, but it nonetheless shows that the body of the church as a whole “cannot err in matters of faith.” As such, I would argue the hierarchy of the Church cannot, and must not, impose matters of faith upon “the last of the faithful” when they do not ultimately manifest a universal consent – especially when people like John Deighan promote such profoundly anti-Christian sensibilities in the name of faith.

The SNP is not a religion: it is a political party, and aims to once again become the Scottish government. But it has the same responsibility of a Sensus Fidelium, to manifest a universal consent. Their matters are political, constitutional, rather than faith – but they are called upon to represent the people who elected them. And even if individual MSPs voted against the bill, and one of the most well-known SNP donors lobbied and campaigned and spoke out, the SNP as a whole did not cave in to that pressure: they voted the way they felt was right, and the way they felt the people of Scotland would want them to. Regardless of your stance on marriage equality, the fact the SNP were not swayed by a powerful donor should speak volumes.

The lobbying of an influential millionaire did not stop the vast majority of SNP MSPs voting in favour of a bill. That is well worth considering in the upcoming election.

I took considerable time to decide which way to vote as I felt it was important to fully consider the correspondence I have received from constituents.

After reading the Bill, the Official Report of evidence sessions and the many emails and letters from constituents, as well as meeting representatives from both sides of the debate, I decided to vote for the Bill.

I recognise some people still have concerns about the issue of safeguards, so I will continue to monitor these issues as the Bill progresses through the parliamentary process.

Stuart McMillan, after voting for the Marriage & Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill


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