The proposal must now be endorsed by a majority of presbyteries and passed again at next year’s Assembly before it can come into effect.
The Kirk’s legal questions committee had drawn up legislation to allow ministers to apply to become an authorised celebrant for same-sex marriages and offered an official opinion from the procurator, the Kirk’s principal legal adviser, that no-one who did not want to would be required to solemnise same-sex marriages or be involved in such ceremonies.
The committee did not take a position on whether the legislation should be taken forward, but the Rev John Purves, of St Andrew’s Church, Drumchapel, Glasgow, proposed the Assembly back the change and it voted 320-211 to do so.
Mr Purves said the Assembly had agreed some years ago that individual churches could depart from the traditional position that marriage was only be between a man and a woman and decide to call minster in a same-sex marriage.
"We recognised there was room in our church for differing views and beliefs and we accommodated those different positions. What that decision achieved was not a compromise –quite the opposite, it created a provision whereby no-one had to compromise. The beliefs of all were acknowledged and respected.”
He said allowing ministers to conduct same-sex marriages was not a threat to anyone's strongly-held beliefs and did not require anyone to conduct such ceremonies against their convictions.
But Eric Smith, an elder from Falkirk, called for the issue to be remitted to the Kirk’s theological forum for consideration. “It appears this is not based on a positive biblical theology for same-sex marriage but an incremental chipping away at the biblical doctrine of marriage we as a church continue to affirm in name.”
The Rev Peter Johnston from Aberdeen noted previous decisions had left the Assembly in the “dubious position” of accepting ministers who were in same-sex marriages but not allowing them or anyone else to conduct such a marriage.
He said the 2017 Assembly had apologised for the Kirk’s history of discrimination against gay people.
“The church’s response to those who are gay and lesbian has been slow and deliberate – far too slow for my liking, but it has been the process we have undertaken because it has been a collective journey. Now it is time to allow ministers and deacons who would wish to conduct same sex marriages the ability to do so.”
The Rev James McNay from West Kilbride opposed the proposal and, despite the assurances that had been given, voiced concern about safeguards for those who did not want to officiate at same-sex ceremonies.
“My fear is it will only be a matter of time before a minister or deacon would be involved in a court case accused of discrimination and despite assurances about safeguards I'm not certain they are watertight.”
But the Rev David McLachlan, from Glasgow Langside, said the proposal respected everyone’s conscience. “It allows us to move on and not keep coming back like Groundhog Day to General Assemblies on this and it would enable us to finally stop what must seem to outsiders as an obsession with this issue.”