Church of Scotland presbyteries will have until the end of the year to decide on proposals which could allow ministers and deacons to conduct same-sex marriages.
Ministers, elders, deacons and special guests are taking part in a “blended” General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for the second year running due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A small number of people are in attendance at the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh with others watching a live stream online.
The Kirk’s Legal Questions Committee on Monday brought forward legislation which could ultimately allow parish ministers and deacons to apply for a licence to become authorised celebrants for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
A motion was raised during the session which asked to: “Approve the Solemnisation of Same-Sex Marriage Overture as set out in Appendix A and transmit the same to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act, directing that returns be sent to the Principal Clerk by 31 December 2021.”
It had been championed by Rev John Purves, minister of Drumchapel St Andrews in Glasgow, and was seconded by ministers including Rev Dr Donald MacEwan, the convener of the Kirk’s Theological Forum.
Mr Purves highlighted that the assembly previously voted to allow congregations to call a minister in a same-sex marriage if they wished to, saying: “We have already embraced the mixed economy. What that decision achieved was not a compromise; quite the opposite.
“It created a provision whereby no-one had to compromise. There were fears expressed at the time that this might be divisive.
“On the contrary, what the last six years have proven is that far from dividing the Church of Scotland, this provision has promoted greater unity within the Church and values the beliefs of all.
“However, this overture is in keeping with where we already stand as a Church and is not a threat to anyone’s strongly held beliefs or practice.
“It is also in line with the Assembly Trustees’ initiative on equality, diversity and inclusion. Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists, it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.
“Today I am asking you to make a new space, a better space for everyone.”
Mr Purves added he saw no merit in “delaying” the matter any further.
However, a countermotion suggested: “Given the significant change in the Church’s theological understanding of biblical marriage which this entails, remit the draft Overture contained in Appendix A to the Theological Forum for consideration and instruct them to bring a report to a future General Assembly.”
Eric Smith, an elder at Brightons Parish Church in Falkirk, said: “Over recent years the Church has gone through a painful process rooted to same sex marriage.
“It has consistently affirmed the traditional view of marriage between one man and one woman at the same time trying to amend and dilute this principal by offering the constrained difference approach.
“It appears that this is not based on a positive biblical theology for same sex marriage but on an incremental chipping away at the biblical doctrine we as a Church continue to affirm in name.”
There were 320 votes for the motion and 211 for the countermotion, and when the new section 5 motion was brought forward it received 319 votes for and 217 against.
It will now be shared with all presbyteries for their consideration under the Church of Scotland’s Barrier Act 1697.
As part of the over-arching terms of the committee’s proposed legislation, no-one would be required to participate in the solemnisation of, or be involved in the arrangements for, a same-sex marriage unless they explicitly wish to do so.
If a majority of presbyteries approve the plans, then next year’s General Assembly will vote for or against them and, if voted for, then the legislation would become Kirk law.
Ministers and deacons would then be able to apply for a licence to become authorised celebrants for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC was installed as the next Moderator of the General Assembly on Saturday, succeeding Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair.
The Duke of Cambridge also gave an opening address after being appointed by the Queen as Lord High Commissioner to the assembly.