Same-sex marriage for Church of Scotland ministers? – not just yet

Following its vote last Saturday to allow the ordination/induction/appointment of ministers and deacons in civil partnerships, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has now taken the first step to extend that permission to ministers in same-sex marriages.

The final decision has been deferred until its presbyteries have been consulted under the Barrier Act. Presbyteries will now debate the matter and return their votes by the end of this year. This means that congregations may now opt out of [“depart from”] traditional church teaching on marriage and call a minister or deacon in a civil partnership, but they will not be able to call a minister in a same-sex marriage until the final vote has been taken. Special provisions were agreed that protect any minister or deacon ordained before 31 May 2009 who is now in a same-sex marriage, in the following terms:

“… the entitlement of a minister or deacon who was ordained or inducted or appointed before 31 May 2009 to remain as a minister or deacon on the same terms and with the same status as any other minister or deacon shall not be prejudiced because he or she was or is in a same sex relationship. Nevertheless he or she may not be inducted or appointed to a congregation the Kirk Session of which has not decided to depart [from the practice of the Church] in terms of section 3.

The General Assembly rejected a countermotion which sought to defer any decision until after the Theological Forum considering the matter submits a report on same-sex marriage to the Assembly in 2017. It then voted in favour of sending the proposal to down to presbyteries under the Barrier Act by 215 votes for to 195 against.

If a majority of presbyteries approves the proposal it will return to the Assembly in 2016 for a final decision. Any wider consideration of the theological understanding of same-sex marriage will not take place until the Theological Forum presents its report at a future date.

The Joint Report of the Theological Forum and the Legal Questions Committee on the matter is available here: the proposed draft amending legislation to extend the ambit of the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act (passed on Saturday) to include ministers and deacons in same sex marriages is in the Appendices to the Joint Report.

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