IN A historic vote, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland yesterday moved to allow congregations to appoint gay ministers who are in civil partnerships.
Commissioners voted 309 in favour and 182 against in an electronic ballot which meant no-one revealed how they voted. The vote on the first day of the Kirk’s annual gathering, should bring to an end a divisive chapter in its history.
Earlier last week, the outgoing moderator, the Right Reverend John Chalmers, issued an appeal for calm in the run-up to the debate and also called for a “year of grace”.
During the debate, the Rev Gordon Kennedy from Edin-burgh said: “This has been the greatest cause for the expression of disunity in our church for 170 years. The only fruit this will bear is disharmony and disunity,”
But the Rev Dr Ian Whyte strongly disagreed and said he had witnessed the suffering of gay ministers who felt they had to hide their sexuality.
Hannah Goodlad, one of the youth representatives, said: “I want to be able to walk away today with my head held high as a member of the Church of Scotland. I would ask – is the calling of a gay minister any less valid than the calling of a straight minister?”
Shortly before the vote, Alan Hamilton, convener of the legal questions committee, said that while the possibility of a disappointed minister suing the Kirk could not be discounted, the risk was sufficiently low and it “should not deter you coming to a decision on theological grounds.”
Twenty-one ministers have left the Kirk in protest over presbyteries being allowed to “call” gay ministers and deacons. The furore was triggered by the appointment of Scotland’s first openly gay minister, the Rev Scott Rennie, to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen in 2009. In 2013 he entered into a civil partnership with his partner, Dr David Smith.
Tim Hopkins, director of the campaign group Equality Network said: “This long-debated decision doesn’t impose anything on any congregation, and recognises differences of opinion within the Kirk. We welcome it as a step that reflects Scotland’s progress toward equality, fairness and respect for diversity.”
On Thursday the Kirk will debate proposals to allow con-gregations to appoint ministers in a same-sex marriage. This follows the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 allowing gay marriage and letting those in civil partnership convert to a marriage.
The question of appointing ministers in civil partnerships was debated at last year’s assembly and then put out to presbyteries to vote. The final figures released earlier this year revealed that the majority backed the proposal with 31 in favour and 14 against.
The main event of the morning was the appointment of the Right Rev Angus Morrison as the new moderator. He was due to take up the post last year but had to stand down before he was installed because of ill-health.