The Church of Scotland has moved one step closer to the ordination of ministers in gay marriages after a vote allowing congregations to appoint ministers already in gay marriages was passed. The vote will have to be ratified at next May’s General Assembly, meaning that another row over gay marriage is likely on the cards.
With two results still to come the outcome is already certain as, of the church’s 45 presbyteries, 25 have voted in favour of the motion. The result is a narrower margin than a similar vote last May on the appointment of ministers in civil partnerships, for which 31 presbyteries voted in favour.
But church insiders warn that the decision may be overturned when it comes before the Assembly next May. A source told the Edinburgh Evening News: “The vote by presbyteries is closer than last year because of the sensitivity around the church’s understanding of marriage. On a number of occasions Assemblies have, on the second reading, abandoned legislation which has been approved by a previous Assembly and a majority of presbyteries.
“It can depend on the make-up of the Assembly, which changes every year. Or the closeness of the result can sometimes have the Assembly saying there is ‘not enough’ support for this to go through.”
However, last May’s Assembly has already voted in favour of the move, which it called a “mixed economy” policy. The vote passed by 309-182, but at the same meeting it was decided that the presbyteries should have their say before final ratification at the 2016 meeting.
According to the church, 21 out of 806 ministers have departed following the decision.
There was a wide variation in the presbytery votes at the local level. Traditionally-minded presbyteries such as Lewis, Inverness and Caithness voted against, while more liberal presbyteries, including Edinburgh and Glasgow were in favour. Edinburgh voted by 122 to 42 in favour. Lothian – which covers Midlothian and East Lothian – voted 47 to 28 against.
Stuart Ryan, a Church of Scotland member in Renfrewshire, told the gay community blog site KaleidoScot: “Obviously marriage is a very sensitive issue and unfortunately while it’s a logical step to allow people in same-sex marriages the same opportunities as those in civil partnership there are many who seem to think the vote will change the way the church sees marriage.
“This has had an effect on the way the presbyteries have voted, and we’ve seen some highly emotive language used within the discussion the church is having – much of it sadly unhelpful from the perspective of an inclusive approach.
“While there’s a majority in favour unfortunately it is a small majority and I think it would be very unwise to make predictions about how the General Assembly will vote next year.”
Mr Ryan added: “I think we need to be realistic about what this vote is about. It is not about gay rights or same-sex marriage more generally, simply about clergy and the right of local congregations to act independently. There are a lot of difficult discussions the Kirk [the Scottish Church] needs to have in the next few years if it is to get to grips with the real issues of acceptance and inclusion.”
In an earlier blog post on the issue, The Rev David Robertson of St Peter’s, Dundee, said: “The liberals who reject the Bible as the Word of God are delighted, declaring that this is the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church. Stonewall are delighted. The self-styled ‘Equality Network’ are delighted. The metro elites are delighted. But many of us who love the Church of Scotland are devastated.”