Churches in Scotland may be exempted from future changes to the law in respect of people who identify as non-binary, a senior civil servant has suggested.
SNP ministers plan to introduce the option of full legal recognition for non-binary children and adults - those who do not identify as male or female. The proposals would also remove the need for a medical diagnosis or treatment prior to changing gender by allowing people to instead make a self-declaration about the gender they want on their birth certificate.
At present, the Catholic Church in Scotland is exempted from some aspects of gender equality laws, allowing it to exclude women from the priesthood.
According to the Herald Scotland newspaper, Simon Stockwell, head of family law at the Scottish Government, suggested in emails released under the Freedom of Information Act that a similar exemption could be put in place if the proposed non-binary option comes into effect.
This would allow the Catholic Church and other religious institutions to refuse the appointment of non-binary clergy.
'Clearly, a further issue is non-binary people. I think it clear that the Roman Catholic Church would refuse to accept a non-binary person in the priesthood,' Stockwell wrote in the emails sent two months before the Scottish Government launched a consultation into the plans, according to the Herald.
'There are, perhaps, potential issues here at the moment for the Church, even if we do nothing at all.
'If a priest says 'I am no longer a man; I am non-binary', that priest may not be in the protected characteristic of 'gender reassignment'.
'However, as the civil law stands, I think the Church could say 'There are only two sexes. We regard this priest as a male.'
'If we change the law to recognise non-binary as a gender and as a sex, that does suggest to me that the protected characteristic of 'gender reassignment' would need to be changed to protect the Church, as well as non-binary people.'
The Catholic Church in Scotland is opposed to the plans to introduce a non-binary option. Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, previously said the plans were 'deeply disturbing'.
The Free Church of Scotland has also raised objections, with former Moderator the Rev David Robertson warning the change would be harmful to children.
'The SNP seem to be working on the unproven and somewhat bizarre notion that children get to choose their own gender and sexuality,' he said.
'We believe that this will result in confusion and brokenness amongst our children rather than fulfilled potential.'