Church of Scotland signals openness to gay weddings but seeks 'mutual flourishing' with conservatives

The Church of Scotland is set to issue a formal apology to gay people for its 'history of discrimination' in a landmark report that also opens the door for ministers to conduct same-sex weddings.

Proposals to be put to the Kirk's General Assembly when it meets next month include addressing the legal implications of gay marriage while allowing for 'conscientious refusal' from conservatives.

The Church of Scotland will debate the proposals next month in its General Assembly.Church of Scotland

If passed a legal panel would then examine the issue of permitting ministers to marry gay couples while protecting those who refused before reporting back in 2018.

The suggestions are similar to the compromise agreement reached by the Church of England in its fractious debate over women bishops.

Former moderator Very Rev Iain Torrance convenes the influential Theological Forum that published the report and said it sought to allow for both opponents and advocates of same-sex marriage.

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'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 report was released hurriedly on Tuesday after a copy was leaked to The Herald newspaper.

The Church's Principal Clerk, Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, said the early release was 'unfortunate' but added it was now up to the Assembly whether to allow the measures.

'In an argument over 20 years, some people have been hurt on both sides. Some have felt unheard, marginalised and denied,' he added according to The Herald

'That why we think the recognition that some apologies all round are needed may help promote reconciliation and help us live with our differences where they exist.

'On the question of conducting same sex marriage, we are recommending our Legal Questions Committee now conducts a thorough appraisal of the legal situation.

'We need to be certain we will not lose our current protection under Equalities Law before we consider any change to Church law which could see ministers who wished to being permitted to conduct same sex marriages.'

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.'

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