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Home  >  News  >  Church Takes Step Towards Same-Sex Marriages


Church Takes Step Towards Same-Sex Marriages

Tuesday May 24 2021

The Church of Scotland today took another step towards allowing same-sex marriages to be carried out by its ministers and in its buildings.

The General Assembly voted to send draft legislation on the solemnisation of same-sex marriages brought by the Church’s Legal Questions Committee to presbyteries for consideration.

The proposal defeated a counter-motion, which would have delayed the legislation while it was considered by the Theological Forum, by 320 votes to 211. The legislation will now be considered by presbyteries later this year and, if a majority agree, by next year’s General Assembly for final approval.

The legislation, brought in response to an instruction of a previous General Assembly, will require ministers and deacons who wish to preside over same-sex weddings to apply for approval to do so, without compelling anyone who does not wish to. Proposing that it be approved, the Rev John Purves said it was ‘not a threat to anyone’s strongly-held beliefs’ and showed the church’s ‘willingness to allow our theology to grow and evolve, and to recognise and respect our differences’.

Arguing for the counter motion, Eric Smith, an elder from Falkirk, said that the legislation represented a ‘de facto change in the church’s position on the definition of marriage’ and that it therefore needed further thought and consideration. However, the convener of the Theological Forum, the Rev Dr Donald MacEwan, pointed out that the Forum produced a report on the theology of same-sex relationships in 2017.

In response to concerns about the possibility of ministers facing legal action for refusing to conduct same-sex weddings, the Procurator, Laura Dunlop QC said that the legislation had been carefully drawn up by the Legal Questions sub-committee to prevent that. She added that the work had gone on for many years and ‘we are all discussed out’.

During the report of the Ecumenical Relations Committee, the Assembly approved the St Andrew Declaration, consisting of mutual Acknowledgements and Commitments between the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church. This includes the two churches recognising each other as sharing the same faith and being ‘true churches of the Gospel’ and acknowledging one another’s ordained ministries; and committing to respond together to our common calling to proclaim the reign of God to all the people of Scotland by strengthening our partnership in ministry and mission’, welcoming each other’s members to worship and committing to work together ‘in practical and prophetic ways’.

Should the Declaration also be approved by the Episcopal Church’s General Synod, it will be signed later this year.

The Assembly was addressed by the Primus of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev Mark Strange (right), who said: “This Declaration doesn’t ignore the things that seem to make us different from each other. Some of those differences will need to be worked through or dare I say it simply accepted as differences we will always have. Remember, unity is not the same as uniformity. What I believe we’re trying to do is to encapsulate the working together that we have already achieved while also informing the communities we serve; that we aren’t here to compete for your loyalty, we are here to share with you our vision of a Scotland still served by the church, with all its breadth, history and prayers for the future.”

The Assembly also approved the Church of Scotland’s participation in the Scottish Christian Forum, the national ecumenical body which is to replace Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS).

Earlier, a former Moderator of the General Assembly said that the culture of the church was more important than its structures.

Presenting the report of the Special Commission on the Effectiveness of the Presbyterian Form of Church Government, the Very Rev Dr Derek Browning said that the Special Commission had agreed that no system of Church government was inherently more effective than any other: “The key thing is not to do with our structures but to do with our attitude. Until we get our culture right and our attitude right at every level then tinkering with the structures will not affect very much.”

The Church was invited to study and engage with the issues raised in the report, and a webinar is to be organised before the end of the year to help members engage with it.

General Assembly 2021: Full Coverage

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