THE Church of Scotland could be heading for another showdown over gay ordination after a move to accept ministers in same-sex marriages won only narrow approval from grassroots members.
The Kirk has already changed its rules to allow people in civil partnerships to serve as ministers, but an amendment to include those in gay marriages – backed by the General Assembly in May – was subject to a vote at local presbyteries across the country and a final go-ahead from next year’s Assembly.
It is understood 25 out of the 45 presbyteries have now voted in favour of the change, with a couple of results still to come.
It is a narrower margin than the vote last year on ministers in civil partnerships, which was backed by 31 presbyteries.
And the closeness of the result could trigger a fresh battle over gay ministers when it comes to the Assembly next May.
One Kirk insider said it would not be the first time an Assembly threw out a proposal despite it having the endorsement of the grassroots.
The source said: “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.”
There was a wide variation in the local votes on the issue.
Edinburgh presbytery voted by 122 to 42 in favour of allowing ministers in same-sex marriages, an even more decisive majority than last year’s 115 to 59 for those in civil partnerships.
But Lothian presbytery – which covers Midlothian and East Lothian – voted against by 47 to 28, compared to last year’s vote of 52 to 26 in favour.
Supporters of the latest move insist that a decision to accept ministers in same-sex marriages does not mean a change in the church’s understanding of marriage.
And it would not give ministers the right to conduct gay weddings. Any move on that will have to wait for the Kirk’s theological forum to report in 2017 or later.
Divisions over gay ministers have dominated Assembly debates since traditionalists tried to block the appointment of a gay minister in 2009.