CONTROVERSY over same-sex marriages is set to dog the Church of Scotland for years to come – despite hopes of resolving the issue of gay ministers at the General Assembly this weekend.
The Kirk’s annual gathering, which gets under way at the Assembly Hall at The Mound on Saturday, is expected to give final approval to a change in church law which will allow individual congregations to call ministers who are in civil partnerships.
Last year’s Assembly backed the compromise approach, which endorses traditional teaching on marriage being between a man and a woman but at the same time says local churches can opt for a gay minister.
The proposal has since received grassroots endorsement from 31 out of the Kirk’s 45 presbyteries and is likely to be voted through at the Assembly on Saturday afternoon.
But because the debate predates the legalisation of gay marriage the proposed change mentions only civil partnerships, not same-sex marriages.
And if the law change is approved on Saturday, the Assembly will be asked on Thursday to amend it to include ministers in same-sex marriages. But opponents could insist that change should also be referred down to presbyteries all over again.
And the Kirk has not even begun the debate on whether it should be involved in future in conducting same-sex weddings.
The Kirk’s theological forum is expected to be asked by the Assembly to look at the church’s stance on gay marriage. A senior source said: “If that happens, it could report back next year or it may say it is such a big issue it needs to take longer.
“The forum would not make any proposals of its own, but it might say same-sex marriage could be acceptable and suggest the legal questions committee should be instructed to write laws around it and another group might look at what the liturgy should look like for a same-sex marriage.
“Whatever change might be proposed would have to go to presbyteries for approval.
“It will take years before there is any prospect of a minister marrying two men or two women.”
Edinburgh presbytery voted almost two to one – 115 to 59 – in favour of gay ordination. Lothian presbytery, which covers East Lothian and Midlothian, voted in a similar way by 52 to 26. In West Lothian, however, the vote was almost even – 28 in favour but 29 against.
Some 21 ministers have quit the Kirk over the past few years in protest at the plans to accept gay ministers, but the church is not expecting a swathe of further departures if the change in church law is confirmed.