Readers with long memories may recall that at the General Assembly in 2013 the Church of Scotland voted in principle to allow men and women in civil partnerships to be ordained to the ministry and/or inducted as parish ministers. In an attempt to keep the two sides together, the Assembly decided to
“[a]ffirm the Church’s historic and current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality nonetheless permit those Kirk sessions who wish to depart from that doctrine and practice to do so”.
On 21 May the matter came back to the 2014 Assembly, which considered a Report from the Legal Questions Committee that included a draft Act of Assembly on the matter. The full text is available as Appendix B to the Committee’s Report but the guts of it are as follows:
“2. (1) The historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality and their application to the ministers and deacons of the Church are hereby affirmed.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, the historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality, their application to the ministers and deacons of the Church and the provisions of this Act are points on which there is liberty of opinion in accordance with Article Declaratory V Departure from the doctrine of the Church is permitted to this extent.
(3) In recognition of the diversity of views within the Church about the historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality and their application to the ministers and deacons of the Church and in the interests of the peace and unity of the Church, departure from the practice of the Church shall be permitted to Kirk Sessions in terms of sections 3, 4 and 5 of this Act only. In this Act, the term ‘depart’ and its variants shall be construed accordingly.
3. (1) As from the date of this Act, a Kirk Session may decide to depart in order to permit the ordination, induction or appointment of a minister or a deacon who is in a civil partnership”.
Following a lengthy debate on the legal and theological implications of the proposal, the Commissioners voted in favour: 369 for and 189 against. The resulting Overture will now be sent down to the 46 Presbyteries under the under the provisions of the Barrier Act 1697 because the terms of the Overture will engage an issue of “doctrine or worship or discipline”.
If a majority of Presbyteries is in favour, a final vote will be taken at the General Assembly in 2015.
It should be noted that the Report and resulting Overture are about civil partnership, not same-sex marriage. The Committee explained in a long footnote that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 had been passed after the meeting of the 2013 General Assembly and that at the time it was drafting the Report the Act had not yet received Royal Assent; nor would it be brought into force until the appropriate amendments to the Equality Act 2010 had been passed by the UK Parliament.
The Committee explained that its remit had been to draft an Overture addressing the position of ministers and deacons who enter civil partnerships and that it had no power to exceed that remit by addressing the issue of same sex marriage. So it didn’t.