Church of Scotland set for key vote on gay marriage

The Church of Scotland is expected to take a significant step toward accepting gay marriage next week.

Proposals to allow ministers to preside over LGBT weddings are thought likely to pass a vote in the Kirk's General Assembly next Thursday.

The procession at the opening of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.Church of Scotland

The suggestion by the Church's Theological Forum insists there must be protections for 'conscientious refusal' from conservative clergy but evangelicals fear the move could lead to all ministers being forced to take gay weddings, even if it is against their beliefs.

So although the recommendations are thought to pass, there could be several years of legal wrangling before same-sex ceremonies take place in the Church of Scotland.

The Kirk's governing General Assembly, which meets in Edinburgh from Saturday, will also vote on whether to apologise to gay people for past discrimination.

'We recognise that as a Church we have often failed to recognise and protect the identity and Christian vocation of gay people and believe that the Church as a whole should acknowledge its faults,' said former Church moderator Professor Iain Torrance, convenor of the Theological Forum.

He added that the suggestions sought to allow for both positions, similar to the Church of England's compromise arrangement to allow women bishops.

'In years past there has been an idea that in time one side in this argument would emerge as the sole victor.

'We don't think like that now,' he said.

'That is why we are arguing for what, last year, the Forum called "constrained difference". This is saying that within limits we can make space for more than one approach.

'It is closely similar to what the Archbishop of Canterbury calls "mutual flourishing".

'This is a centrist report, aimed at encouraging mutual flourishing.'

The wide-ranging report covers human rights, sexuality and the history of marriage and offers an in-depth analysis of the arguments on both sides.

Addressing the issue of the importance of the Bible, the report insisted that God speaks outside and beyond Scripture as well as within it.

On the conservative argument that homosexual relationships are 'intrinsically unnatural and a violation of the oft-claimed complementarity of a man and a woman', the report retorts: 'The counter argument is evidently that it is natural to them' and adds: 'homosexuality is more common in nature than may be realised'.

The report signalled a softening of the Kirk's attitude to gay couples by withdrawing any mention of 'man' and 'woman' from its view of marriage.

'Consent within a covenanted relationship between two persons remains at the heart of our understanding,' it said.

'The Forum does not believe there are sufficient theological grounds to deny nominated individual ministers and deacons the authority to preside at same- sex marriages,' it added.

'However, the Forum does not believe that such permission should be granted until there is assurance that the conscientious refusal of other ministers and deacons to preside at such marriages is protected.'