The General Assembly voted by 274 to 136 to approve a change in church law to allow the move, but ministers who do not want to conduct such weddings will not have to.
The Rev Scott Rennie, who was the Kirk’s first openly gay minister, said it had been a long journey for the church to get to this point. “It has not been easy for the many LGBTQ people in our church, nor I know for some in the church who find developing understandings of human sexuality in relationship to scripture difficult and challenging.
"If we pass this today, those ministers who wish to conduct same-sex marriages are free to do so, those who do not are entitled to decline."
And he spoke of his personal experience of how important same-sex marriage was. "Marriage is a wonderful thing. My marriage to my husband Dave nurtures my life and my ministry. And frankly I do not think I could be a minister of this church without his love and support. Same-sex marriage is like opposite-sex marriage – it has its joys and its sorrows, its glories and its tensions. It’s pretty normal actually.”
The Assembly’s decision means ministers and deacons will be able to apply to become authorised celebrants to conduct same-sex marriages if they wish.
And the procurator Laura Dunop QC, the Kirk’s principal legal adviser, repeated to the Assembly her view that the protections built into the scheme were sufficient to ensure no-one who did not want to would be required to solemnise same-sex marriages or be involved in such ceremonies.
The Rev Craig Dobney, of Comrie, said he had seen the heartbreak of people in same-sex relationships who could not be married in their own church. “To be married in front of their church families would mean everything to them, but they were not able to do so.”
He said before he arrived his church had voted in principle against having a minister in a same-sex relationship and parts of the community had turned their backs on the church. “We talk about being a welcoming church – I sometimes have to question that. The question we should be asking is: Are we as a church welcome in our communities?”
Opposing the change, the Rev Alistair Cook from Hawick said although ministers were not obliged to conduct same-sex marriages, the change did represent church approval for such marriages. "It doesn’t matter who is doing it in the church, it means the church is doing it, so it is an approval of same-sex marriage.”
And Glasgow minister the Rev Ben Thorp said the decision would not mean an end to the issue. “We will continue to be divided”.
He argued that despite presbyteries backing the move by 29 to 12, more than a third of individuals voting had been against. “It also places us within the minority in the world church. And although we have guarantees this will be lawful, the court of public opinion is still very strong on this and there is definitely the possibility that churches who choose not to [allow same-sex marriages] could still be targeted.”