General Assembly approves scheme to conduct same-sex marriages

An historic vote has taken place which will allow Church of Scotland ministers and deacons to marry same-sex couples.

The General Assembly voted to change a standing church law to allow the right to apply to become an authorised celebrant to conduct same-sex ceremonies by 274 votes to 136.

The decision, which would enable ministers and deacons to opt-in to a new scheme, came after a majority of presbyteries – 29-12 – approved the “Solemnisation of Same Sex Marriage Overture”.

 Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields
Moderator Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields.

A report to the General Assembly makes it clear that no person 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.

Humility and grace

Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly, said: “The Church of Scotland is a broad church and there are diverse views on the subject of same-sex marriage among its members.

“There has been a lengthy, prayerful and in-depth discussion and debate about this topic for many years at all levels of the Church to find a solution that respects diversity and values the beliefs of all.

“The Church is committed to ensuring that debates on this subject are held in a spirit of humility and grace, the tone and tenor of discussions are civil and people are respectful of those who hold opposing views.

“The General Assembly has today approved the Solemnisation of Same Sex Marriage Overture to change a standing Church law to enable Ministers of Word and Sacrament and deacons to apply to become authorised celebrants if they wish.

“However, no minister or deacon 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.

“All celebrants would be expected to take account of the peace and unity and pastoral needs of the congregation and any parish or other grouping of which it is a part while considering to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony.”

Under the terms of the legislation, an individual would have to apply to the Principal Clerk’s office to become a celebrant and an application would then be made to the Registrar General for Scotland on their behalf.

The Principal Clerk would maintain an up to date record of celebrants and they would be personally responsible for renewing their status every three years.

Only a parish minister who has become a celebrant will be permitted the use of a church building in their charge for the solemnisation of same sex marriages.

They would be able to grant consent to other celebrants to use the building for this purpose, however.

The issue sparked a lively debate among ministers and elders on both sides of the argument.

God’s love

Rev Phil Gunn, minister of Rosskeen Parish Church in Ross-shire, asked: “A Church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a Gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a Word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a Word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed, what kind of Gospel is that?

“Quite simply put, this overture is not biblical and we see the scriptures, old and new, that point to God’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality.

“We are called to love everyone as Christ commanded us, we are to demonstrate God’s love to the world so they might recognise something different in us but that does not mean we have to conform to the ways of society or the world.”

Mr Gunn said the Bible is the supreme rule of faith and life for the Church.

“God has called us as his followers to be bold and make a stand for what is right in his eyes,” he added.

“If we choose to turn our back on scripture how can we stand up and say we are ministers of God’s church if we then change what God says?”

Church together

But Rev Lezley Stewart, speaking as a minister and a commissioner, told the General Assembly “it is time to say I do.”

“We have always lived with differences and we always will, no one in this General Assembly hall is the same as you and no one thinks the same as you and maybe we should thank God for that,” she said.

“But we are the Church together and if you look to your right, to your left, look in front of you and look behind you, hopefully what you can see is simply a reflection of Christ – we are the Church together.

“Jesus said we should be seen by our love for one another.

“It is time to day I do respect the choice of ministers to choose, I do respect the faith and desire of members and ministers to say I do and be married in their church in a way that most of us have been able to do throughout the whole of our lives and take for granted.”

The Church’s Legal Questions Committee is producing guidance to accompany the amended Church law.

It will be prepared in consultation with the Faith Nurture Forum and the Theological Forum and issued to presbytery clerks and posted online this summer to assist in the practical operation of the revised Act’s provisions.

The Faith Nurture Forum will produce a suggested liturgy for celebrants to use to bless same-sex marriages.