The Church of Scotland has been asked to apologise for its “history of discrimination” against gay people and could be a step closer to allowing ministers to perform same-sex marriages.
A report to be debated at the Kirk’s General Assembly next month proposes that a church committee look into allowing nominated ministers and deacons to hold ceremonies – but wants to retain “contentious refusal” from those opposed.
The report, by the Kirk’s Theological Forum, also calls for “the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better”.
The report states: “We recognise as a Church we have often failed to recognise and protect the identity and Christian vocation of gay people and believe the Church as a whole should acknowledge its faults.”
A range of theological perspectives on same-sex marriage are examined in the paper, ranging from traditionalist opinion, based on the view that biblical writers condemned same-sex acts, meaning the Church had to forbid it, to more “inclusive arguments”. The report continues: “There are those who are reluctant to extend use of the term ‘marriage’ to same-sex couples on the grounds what they do is intrinsically unnatural...the counter argument is evidently that it is natural to them.”
It concludes: “The Forum does not believe there are sufficient theological grounds to deny nominated individual ministers and deacons the authority to preside at same-sex marriages.”
The proposed policy shift follows controversial moves to appoint the first openly gay minister, Rev Scott Rennie in 2009, and last year’s decision to allow ministers to be in same-sex marriages.
Gay marriage became legal in Scotland in 2014 but the Kirk has protection under the equalities legislation and the research by the Legal Questions Committee will aim to ensure officials who refuse to carry out the services cannot be prosecuted. Rev Rennie welcomed the report saying: “Over the last ten years or more the Church has step by step being taking a move to more inclusion.”
Forum convener the Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance said: “In years past, there has been an idea that in time, one side in this argument would emerge as the sole victor. We don’t think like that now.”
Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson said: “Speaking personally, there are a great many gay people of faith who would welcome the ability to be married in the church they regularly attend. I’m one of them.”
Labour counterpart Kezia Dugdale said enabling gay couples to marry in church “seems a natural and welcome development”.
She added: “I know of many people of faith who have, at times, felt excluded from their Church because of who they love. This is a welcome opportunity to address that.”