Church of Scotland says yes to same-sex married ministers

By Savi Hensman
May 24, 2016

The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly has agreed that ministers and deacons can marry members of the same gender. Commissioners made this historic decision on 21 May 2016 by 339 votes to 215.

This is a major step towards including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Next year there will be further discussion on whether ministers will be allowed to celebrate weddings if they so wish.

Meanwhile the theological view of marriage as the union of a man and woman remains. Yet as John Chalmers, Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, explained, "Today's decision means it will be possible for kirk sessions and congregations to depart from the traditional understanding of marriage to call not only potentially a minister in a civil partnership but one who is in a same-sex marriage.”

The decision may encourage a shift by some churches in Britain which still threaten LGBT clergy or elders with dismissal if they marry.

Since the end of 2014, same-sex couples in Scotland have been legally able to marry. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showed that this was backed by about four-fifths of non-religious people and three-fifths of Christians, including 59 per cent of those questioned who were members of the Church of Scotland. However approval was less common among weekly worshippers.

The 2016 General Assembly vote is in part the result of years of patient work by those pointing out that committed, self-giving relationships between same-sex couples are not ruled out by the Bible.

In addition, some members, while not yet convinced of the rightness of marriage of same-sex couples, are willing to grant freedom of conscience to those who are. This willingness not to force their own stance on fellow-Christians is impressive.

Respect for conscientious choice and local decision-making on some ethical issues makes it possible for those with very different views to stay in fellowship. And in terms of Christian understanding, it may make it easier to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit than does rigid centralisation of power.

A handful of Church of Scotland ministers have left in recent years because of increasing acceptance of partnered LGBT people. But numerous church members have been willing to move forward together, on a journey which is likely to continue for some time.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is  author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.