The Church of Scotland has voted to allow parish ministers and deacons to marry same-sex couples if they wish.
At the 2022 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on Monday, 274 commissioners voted in favour of the move and 136 against.
They have approved an overture to change a standing Church law to enable parish ministers, known as Ministers of Word and Sacrament, and deacons to apply to become authorised celebrants to conduct same-sex ceremonies.
A report to the General Assembly makes it clear that no person would be required to participate in the solemnisation of, or be involved in the arrangements for, a same-sex marriage unless they explicitly wished to do so.
All celebrants would be expected to take account of the “peace and unity and pastoral needs of the congregation and any parish or other grouping of which it is a part” while considering conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Reverend Craig Dobney was among those who urged commissioners to approve same-sex marriage.
He said: “I’ve seen the heartbreak of those in same-sex relationships in our congregations who are unable to marry in their home church, devout Christians though they are. To be married, in front of their church families, would mean everything to them but they were not able to do so.
“I worry that our churches have become irrelevant to our the communities.
“We can stay in our ivory towers, in our marble mansions, in our granite buildings and sit there thinking quire happily that we are following scripture by stopping people from coming to our churches, by making people unwelcome.
“We talk about being a welcoming church, I sometimes have to question that. Actually, the question we should be asking, are we as a church welcome in our communities?”
Reverend Scott Rennie urged commissioners to support the overture, describing marriage as a “wonderful thing”.
He said: “My marriage to my husband, Dave, nurtures my life and my ministry and, frankly, I do not think I could be a minister of this church without his love and support, it is always there in the background.”
However, others questioned whether approving the move would put people under pressure to be involved in same-sex marriages even if they did not wish to do so, or make it more of a personal issue for ministers rather than the institution of the church.
Reverend Ben Thorp said: “While we have guarantees that there will not be civil action and that this will be lawful, the court of public opinion is still very strong on this and there is definitely the possibility that churches who choose not to – if this motion is passed – could still be targeted.
“If we choose in favour of this motion then it will cease to become an institutional position and becomes a personal decision and individual ministers will be making a personal decision and when asked, can you marry us, the answer will have to be no, because I choose not to, rather than no, that’s something that I cannot do, and that creates pastoral difficulties as well for everyone on both sides of the debate so, I think, we need to be very aware of these tensions that are here.”
Meanwhile, the Covenant Fellowship Scotland, a think tank of evangelicals within the Church of Scotland, described the decision as “unbiblical and sinful”.
Baroness Davidson tweeted: “Delighted to see that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has voted for ministers to be able to conduct same-sex weddings.
“Thanks to those who have shown grace and care as the church edged closer and closer to this point.”
Ms Dugdale described it as “tremendous news and progress”.
Under the terms of the legislation, an individual would have to apply to the Principal Clerk’s office to become a celebrant and an application would then be made to the Registrar General for Scotland on their behalf.
Reverend James Bissett, a minister in the Inverness area, tweeted: “I have just emailed the @churchscotland Principal Clerk’s office to ask that I be registered as a celebrant of same-sex marriages.”
Only a parish minister who has become a celebrant will be permitted the use of a church building in their charge for the solemnisation of same-sex marriages, however, they would be able to grant consent to other celebrants to use the building for this purpose.