Following years of controversy the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has voted to allow congregations to appoint ministers and deacons in same sex marriages.
Delegates voted 339 in favour and 215 in the first debate on the opening day of the Kirk’s 2016 General Assembly today.
Last year the General Assembly voted in favour of allowing congregations to ordain gay ministers and deacons in same sex civil partnerships.
The move towards a more liberal approach created divisions within the Kirk with a number of members and congregations leaving in protest.
Prior to the vote a number of delegates voiced strong criticisms against the move urging delegates to reject further change.
Arthur C Custance, a church elder from Kinlochleven, warned a “vote in favour of homosexuality is in effect voting against Jesus Christ.”
Rev Prof Andrew TB McGowan from Inverness East, Presbytery of Inverness, said: “This matter has decimated the Church. Thousands of members and adherents have left the Church, sometimes whole congregations. This has been particularly damaging in the Highlands and islands.”
However, Rev John Nugent, from St Fergus Kirk in Wick, tried to calm the debate saying: “Emotional guns are being held to our heads in this vote. We’ve had reference to those members who’ve left with warnings that more might go and voting “against Christ”. This does no help to the Church or those in the watching world, or those wrestling with their sexuality. It has left me feeling profoundly disturbed.”
Tim Hopkins, director of Equality Network, welcomed the vote saying: “We are pleased with the vote as it gives Kirk sessions the freedom to decide for themselves.
“We are generally in favour of a liberal position but recognise that people have different views.”
However, Hopkins said his organisation would not be campaigning to allow ministers to conduct same sex marriages.
“We would like to see all marriages treated equally but we recognise that this is a matter of persuasion. We think it is for members within the Church to campaign on this.”
Last year a decision was taken to set up a theoretical forum on the issue of same sex marriages, with the findings to be reported on next year.
The Very Rev John Chalmers, principal clerk to the General Assembly, said he hoped that the outcome of the vote would not lead to further members quitting the Kirk.
“I sincerely hope what’s happened today (sat) won’t be seen as more deeply divisive than last year.”
“We crossed the Rubicon last year with civil partnerships. What today was about was tidying up, catching up with Scots law.”
Today saw the appointment of Rev Dr Russell Barr, minister of Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh, as the new Moderator of the General Assembly. Dr Barr has vowed to make fighting homelessness one of the main goals of his year in office.