The highest court of the Church of Scotland has moved closer to giving congregations the freedom to appoint a person in a same-sex marriage as their minister.
The General Assembly yesterday backed a motion by 215 votes to 195 to refer the issue to the Kirk’s 45 presbyteries under the Barrier Act for further discussion.
More than 300 commissioners, who sat through a three-hour debate, entitled to vote on the controversial issue did not do so.
If a majority of presbyteries back the motion, which has no bearing on the Kirk’s opposition to civil same-sex marriage law, it will be referred back to the General Assembly next year which will have the final say.
A decision taken by commissioners on Saturday to allow congregations the freedom to call people in civil partnerships as their minister if they wish still stands as it has already been enshrined in Church law.
Church leaders have admitted that there are already some gay Kirk ministers who have got married since same-sex marriage was legalised in Scotland in December, but could not reveal their identities.
The General Assembly has agreed that any minister or deacon ordained before May 31, 2009, who is now in a same-sex marriage, will be protected which means their jobs are safe.
The debate was triggered by the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen in early May, 2009.
The 42-year-old, who entered into a civil partnership in 2013 and attended the debate, said: “It is clear the General Assembly wants to move forward but steadily and patiently so as to take as much of the Church forward together.
“It may not always seem it from the outside but the Kirk has moved hugely in the last five years.”
But the decision was mocked by the Rev David Robertson, moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, who claimed it would take the Kirk further away from the teachings of the Bible.
“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,” he said.
“The whole thing is totally confusing, we do not understand what is going on and I suspect the vast majority of the public don’t have a Scooby either.”
The Very Rev David Arnott, co-ordinator of the Kirk’s principal clerk’s office, said the decision taken was the “logical extension” of the benefits which accrue to people in civil partnerships who wish to be ministers.
“The Very Rev Iain Torrance assured the General Assembly that the Theological Forum that he convenes would bring a report on same-sex marriage to a future meeting which we will look forward to,” he added.
“Out of pastoral concern for the whole Church, commissioners decided to pass this overture to the presbyteries who will report in May 2016.
“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.”