Kirk a step closer to blessing same-sex marriages
Published on 24 May 2021
The Church of Scotland is a step closer to allowing ministers of Word and Sacrament and deacons to marry same-sex couples if they wish.
Commissioners at the General Assembly this afternoon approved draft legislation, with safeguards in accordance with Section 9 (1A) of the Marriage Scotland Act, by 319 votes to 217.
It will now be passed to presbyteries under the Barrier Act for further consideration.
They have until 31 December to express their views to the Principal Clerk and a report will be submitted to the General Assembly next year.
If a majority of presbyteries back the draft legislation and it is agreed by next year's General Assembly, it will become Church law in Scotland only.
Ministers and deacons will be able to apply for a license to become authorised celebrants for same sex marriage ceremonies.
No-one would be required to participate in the solemnisation of, or be involved in the arrangements for, a same sex marriage unless they explicitly wished to do so.
In 2017, the General Assembly instructed the Legal Questions Committee to undertake a study of the matters which would require to be addressed in any proposed future legislation.
A sub-committee was formed on same sex marriage and members met regularly.
Following a debate at the 2018 General Assembly, the committee were instructed to prepare the proposed legislation which was presented this year.
The draft legislation was passed down to presbyteries for further consideration after commissioners backed a motion championed by Rev John Purves, minister of Drumchapel St Andrews in Glasgow.
It was seconded by ministers including Rev Dr Donald MacEwan, the convener of the Kirk's Theological Forum.
'Promoting greater unity'
Mr Purves said the General Assembly had previously voted to allow congregations to call a minister in a same-sex marriage if they wished to.
"We have already embraced the mixed economy," he added.
"What that decision achieved was not a compromise; quite the opposite.
"It created a provision whereby no-one had to compromise. There were fears expressed at the time that this might be divisive.
"On the contrary, what the last six years have proven is that far from dividing the Church of Scotland, this provision has promoted greater unity within the Church and values the beliefs of all.
"However, this Overture is in keeping with where we already stand as a Church and is not a threat to anyone's strongly held beliefs or practice.
"It is also in line with the Assembly Trustees' initiative on equality, diversity and inclusion. Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists, it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.
"Today I am asking you to make a new space, a better space for everyone."
Mr Purves said the Church has grown and evolved over the years and he saw no merit in "delaying" the matter any further.
‘Affirming the traditional view'
However, Eric Smith, an elder at Brightons Parish Church in Falkirk, proposed a counter-motion, calling for the draft Overture to be sent to the Theological Forum for consideration and instructed them to bring a report to a future General Assembly.
"Over recent years the Church has gone through a painful process rooted to same sex marriage," he said.
"It has consistently affirmed the traditional view of marriage between one man and one woman at the same time trying to amend and dilute this principal by offering the constrained difference approach.
"It appears that this is not based on a positive biblical theology for same sex marriage but on an incremental chipping away at the biblical doctrine we as a Church continue to affirm in name."
Mr Smith said Mr Purves's motion was akin to putting the cart before the horse on the basis that Church law was changed without first demonstrating a positive biblical theology for same-sex marriages.
Commissioners rejected the counter-motion by 320 votes to 211.
Today's debate comes following the 2017 General Assembly, when the Legal Questions Committee was instructed to undertake a study of the matters which would require to be addressed in any proposed future legislation.
A copy of the full draft legislation and supplementary report is available within the Blue Book.
Watch this year's General Assembly
This year's General Assembly is being held until Thursday 27 May, with commissioners and other attendees joining together remotely from across Scotland and around the world.
As in October 2020, the Assembly is being live streamed so those who are not commissioners can still watch the proceedings through our website.
The Blue Book reports (i.e. overviews of each Forum or committee's work over the last year, as well as their future plans) are available to read on our General Assembly pages.