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Next move in gay ministers debate

Published 22/05/2015

Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Angus Morrison (centre), Principal Clerk George Wright (left) and Reverend Derek Browning at the Kirk's General Assembly in Edinburgh.
Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Angus Morrison (centre), Principal Clerk George Wright (left) and Reverend Derek Browning at the Kirk's General Assembly in Edinburgh.

The Church of Scotland has moved a step closer to allowing people in same-sex marriages to be appointed as ministers.

The Kirk's General Assembly in Edinburgh voted to send the issue to presbyteries for further discussions, deferring a final decision on the issue for at least another year.

The Assembly was told that the measure would not change the Church's traditional stance on marriage, or amount to a recognition of the validity of same-sex marriage.

The move follows a historic vote, which saw the Church vote in favour of allowing people in same- sex civil partnerships to be called as ministers and deacons.

The outcome of that vote followed years of deliberation within the Church.

The decision at the weekend meant the Kirk adopted a position which maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, but allows individual congregations to "opt out" if they wish to appoint a minister or a deacon in a civil partnership.

But because that debate predated the legalisation of gay marriage, the change related only to civil partnerships, not same-sex marriages.

For that reason, the Assembly was asked to consider amending the new Church law to include ministers in same-sex marriages.

In a debate lasting more than three hours, convener of the Church's Theological Forum, the Very Rev Prof Iain Torrance, described the proposal as a legal procedure which extended the provision of civil partnerships to same-sex marriages.

A counter motion which sought to defer any decision until 2017 was narrowly defeated.

Commissioners then voted by 215 votes to 195 in favour of sending the proposal to presbyteries for consideration under a mechanism known as the Barrier Act.

Presbyteries will now debate the matter and return their votes by the end of this year. It remains hard to predict with confidence at this stage which way the presbyteries will lean overall.

If, however, a majority of presbyteries give their approval, the matter will return to the Assembly next year, where the final decision will be taken on the matter.

Any wider consideration of the theological understanding of same-sex marriage will not take place until the Theological Forum presents its report at a future date, the Church said.

Special provisions have been agreed which protect any minister or deacon ordained before May 31 2009 who is now in a same-sex marriage.

It is understood that two ministers have upgraded their civil partnerships to marriage.

Following the Assembly's decision, the Very Rev David Arnott, co-ordinator of the principal clerk's office, said: "The General Assembly understood this to be a logical extension of the benefits which accrue to those in civil partnership. Very Rev Prof Iain Torrance assured the Assembly the Theological Forum will bring a report on same-sex marriage to a future Assembly, which we will look forward to.

"Out of a pastoral concern for the whole Church, the General Assembly decided to pass this overture to the presbyteries, who will report to the Assembly in May 2016."

Free Church Moderator Rev David Robertson said: "The Church of Scotland has adopted two contrasting positions - that it is acceptable for ministers to be in gay marriages, but not so for parishioners. The whole thing is totally confusing.

"We don't understand what's going on in the Church of Scotland, and suspect the vast majority of the Scottish public don't have a Scooby either.

"We believe that Scotland needs the guidance of a national church rooted in the teachings of the Bible, irrespective of public opinion and pressure to conform."

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