The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will debate whether congregations should be allowed to consider calling a person in a same-sex marriage as a minister or deacon when it meets in next year.
The discussion will take place in May 2016, after a majority of the Kirk’s 45 Presbyteries voted in favour by approving an Overture amending the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act (Act I 2015).
At the previous General Assembly, held in May 2015, the Church of Scotland approved legislation which gave leave to individual congregations to call a minister or appoint a deacon who was in a civil partnership. This legislation, however, did not include recognition of ministers or deacons who might be in a same-sex marriage.
An amendment was proposed which would extend permission to allow congregations to consider inducting or appointing a minister or deacon who was in a same-sex marriage. The General Assembly voted to send the issue to a vote of its Presbyteries under the Barrier Act, with the issue being returned for consideration in the following year.
The General Assembly was careful to note that the matter under discussion was whether to allow ministers in same sex marriages to be inducted or appointed on the same basis as those in civil partnerships. The Church stresses that this acknowledgment of legal standing is quite separate from the Church’s theological understanding of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.
The Church of Scotland has further emphasised that the theology of marriage is not under discussion in relation to consideration of this Overture, and that the decision of the General Assembly in May will not affect the Church’s ideological and theological standpoint.
All of the Church’s Presbyteries have now returned their votes and, as KaleidoScot suggested last week, it has now been confirmed that a narrow majority has voted in support of the Overture. The Kirk has announced that 25 Presbyteries voted in favour with 19 against – and with one Presbytery tied.
The total number of presbyters voting for the Overture numbered 1,207, with 1,096 voting against.
A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “Now that the Presbyteries have returned their votes, we will begin making arrangements to report the outcome of the vote to Commissioners at the General Assembly next May.
“They will hold a debate and vote on whether to make this proposed legislation into standing Church Law through the passing of the Act.”
A member of the Church of Scotland, who asked to remain anonymous, told KaleidoScot: “We have to be cautiously optimistic that this represents a small but significant step forward.
“We also have to be very honest about what is at stake here. We’ve been hearing passionate internal arguments during the voting process about the nature of marriage, but all that the Church is proposing is the very reasonable measure of allowing people in same-sex marriages the same legal rights as those in civil partnerships.
“There is a further debate to be had on the church’s understanding of marriage – in that sense we’re a bit ‘behind’ our friends in the United Reformed Church, for example – but that’s a wider debate that will be had in due course. I think this is one step towards equality and acceptance for LGBTI people but we have to see it in its correct context.
“I think the debate in next year’s General Assembly will inevitably be quite fraught, but I believe it’s been healthy to have these discussions and many Presbyteries have had positive, open and engaging debates.”
While the Presbyteries have given support to the Overture, the General Assembly itself will have the final say on this matter.