Church of Scotland calls for 'robust' protection over gay marriage

The Scottish Government is being asked to ensure that clergy who cannot in conscience conduct gay marriage ceremonies will not face legal action if gay marriage is legalised in Scotland. 

The plea came from the Church of Scotland, which met the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday to give its views on the proposed legislation to change the definition of marriage.

The Church of Scotland is the largest provider of religious marriages in the country, conducting more than 5,500 in 2012.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland meeting in May this year instructed several Kirk committees to explore whether the Church should continue to celebrate marriages in the way it does now or adopt the practice common on the continent of all marriages being civil but with couples having the option of a Church blessing afterwards.

Their conclusions will be presented to the 2015 Assembly.

Convener of the Legal Questions Committee, the Reverend Dr Alan Hamilton, said the Church of Scotland continues to hold to the historical Christian understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

"Marriage is a binding force for good and will continue to be so for many years and generations to come," he said.

"As politicians consider the bill, the Church of Scotland asks for space for itself and for its ministers to decide whether to celebrate same sex marriages.

"We are simply urging that any legislation if approved is robust enough to protect those who in conscience will not want to conduct such ceremonies."

The Kirk review into marriage will also consider the case for church services to be an optional extra after a civil ceremony in light of the potential for ministers to be subject to legal action following the proposed legislation on same sex marriages.

Mr Hamilton said: "The Church will continue to be a constructive voice in the national debate. We will consider the details of the bill carefully and we await clarification on key issues such as education."