Church of Scotland emblemThe General Assembly has taken the first step to extend the provision covering ministers in same sex civil partnerships to those in same sex marriages. The final decision has been deferred until its presbyteries have been consulted under the process known as the Barrier Act. Presbyteries will now debate the matter and return their votes by the end of this year.

Following the historic vote on Saturday, it means congregations may now call a minister or deacon in a same sex civil partnership, but that provision does not extend to any ministers entering into same sex marriages until the final vote has been taken. Special provisions have been agreed which protect any minister or deacon ordained before May 31st 2009 who is now in a same sex marriage.

The General Assembly faced two votes during a debate lasting more than 3 hours. Very Rev Prof Iain Torrance, who is convener of the Church’s Theological Forum, described the proposal as a legal procedure which extended the provision of same sex civil partnerships to same sex marriages. He said the measure would not change the Church’s traditional stance on marriage, nor amount to a recognition of the validity of same sex marriage.

Very Rev Albert Bogle then moved a countermotion which sought to defer any decision until the Theological Forum submitted a report on same sex marriage to the Assembly in 2017. However commissioners voted for the proposal and against his countermotion by a narrow margin of 213 in favour to 205 against.

Commissioners then voted in favour of sending the proposal to presbyteries under the Barrier Act, by 215 votes for to 195 against.

Commenting on the Assembly’s decision, Very Rev David Arnott, who is Coordinator of the Principal Clerk’s Office said:

“The General Assembly understood this to be a logical extension of the benefits which accrue to those in civil partnership. Very Rev Prof Iain Torrance assured the Assembly the Theological Forum will bring a report on same sex marriage to a future Assembly, which we will look forward to. Out of a pastoral concern for the whole Church the General Assembly decided to pass this Overture to the presbyteries who will report to the Assembly in May 2016.”

If a majority of Presbyteries give their approval, the matter will return to the Assembly in 2016 where the final decision will be taken on this matter. 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.