A UK-wide Church has taken a signficant step closer to conducting same-sex marriages after a vote at its General Assembly on Saturday.
The United Reformed Church, which has 47 congregations in Scotland, discussed how to respond to recent legislative changes in relation to same-sex marriage.
The substantive resolution being debated suggested that “it is not possible for the denomination to express a single view on the issue of same-sex marriage” and proposed that the decision on whether to perform same-sex marriages should lie with local churches. Under the proposal, individual churches would be allowed to marry same-sex couples if they wished, but would not be compelled to do so.
The URC reported that during “an extended period of debate and discussion, held using the URC’s consensus decision-making processes, a wide variety of views were aired.” The vote that followed saw a large majority voting in favour of the resolution.
A further procedural resolution was put forward to refer the issue back to the Church’s 11 regional and 2 national (Scottish and Welsh) synods, for a nine-month long consultation period that will end in March 2016. This proposal divided opinion, with some arguing that there had already been more than enough consultation and that the church should simply “get on with it [and] own the decision it had just made”. Others felt that the decision would be stronger if it was formally ratified by the synods.
The procedural motion was passed by 184 votes to 30. This means that, unless five synods opt to reject the substantive motion, the Assembly will make a final decision in 2016 when a two-thirds majority would be enough to confirm the change.
Local churches could therefore be free to conduct same-sex marriages in late 2016.
The URC, founded in 1972 from a merger between the Congregational Church and the Presbyterian Church of England, has a membership of 68,000 and 700 ministers. If, as expected, the synods and Assembly support the proposals the URC would become the largest denomination in the UK to hold same-sex weddings.