In a momentous decision, the Church of Scotland, the country’s largest Protestant church, has narrowly voted to allow gay ministers following four years of debate between the liberal and traditionalist sides of the church.
It was in 2009 that an openly gay minister, Scott Rennie, was selected to lead Queen’s Cross parish in Aberdeen, leading to a split in the Church.
The church’s ruling General Assembly voted to allow congregations to admit gay ministers but only if they specifically elect to do so; this marks a radical departure from more than 450 years of orthodoxy, dating from the Protestant reformer John Knox.
In other words, the Church of Scotland will approve gay and lesbian ministers, but individual churches can choose to not accept them.
Scottish gay rights campaigners praised the move but the Free Church of Scotland called it “totally confusing.”
Church Of Scotland vs. Free Church Of Scotland
Note to readers: those two names might sound the same, but they are not: the Free Church of Scotland split from the Church of Scotland in the 19th century.
It’s not quite a done deal yet, though. According to The Guardian, the new rule will not take effect until 2015, and must first be written into church law and approved by next year’s general assembly.
(The Very Reverend Albert) Bogle’s motion to “affirm the Church’s historic and current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality, (but) nonetheless permit those Kirk Sessions who wish to depart from that doctrine and practice to do so” was carried with 340 votes in favour to 282 against.
“We welcome this decision by the Church of Scotland, which is particularly important for the many LGBT people within the Church and their friends and family,” said Equality Network policy co-ordinator Tom French.
“This is a positive step forward for a more equal society, and speaks to the progressive values of 21st century Scotland.”
Scotland 1, England 0
The Church of England is still lagging behind, not quite ready to fully embrace the existence of gay clergy.
As Changing Attitude reports, within the Church of England, some gay clergy in partnerships are affirmed by their bishops and congregations, while others lose their licences and struggle to find work. Still others hide themselves, keeping their relationship discreet.
Even more bizarre is this ruling from 2011: if you are gay and in a civil partnership, you can become a priest or a bishop in the Church of England, but only if you are celibate. The mind boggles as to how the authorities would go about verifying that two people in a civil partnership are not sexually active.
British House Of Commons Approves Same-Sex Marriage
The Church of Scotland’s new rule comes just as the debate over marriage equality is in full swing in the UK.
On May 21, Britain’s House of Commons voted to legalize gay marriage in England and Wales. British MPs approved the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by 366 votes to 161. The legislation allows same-sex couples access to civil marriage ceremonies only; they would not be allowed to marry in the Church of England or the Church of Wales.
Note that this legislation does not cover Scotland: In December of last year, the Scottish government announced its own draft legislation to legalize marriage equality in the region, and is currently seeking public feedback on the measure.
Meanwhile, the Same Sex Couples bill will move onto the House of Lords, where it is likely to face a tougher time.
Grassroots conservatives have voiced opposition at Cameron and the bill, with conservative co-chairman Lord Feldman reportedly calling activists “mad, swivel-eyed loons.”
The Church of Scotland’s decisive vote is historic and hugely significant: the declaration that homosexual activity is not only permissible, but also open to the Church’s clergy, who are so often seen as society’s moral arbiters.
The Church of Scotland is moving forward.
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