CLERGY in the Scottish Episcopal Church have been threatened with disciplinary action if they enter a same-sex marriage, sparking a fierce backlash amongst its ministry and membership.
An edict by Episcopalian bishops warns clerics already in a civil partnership that converting their relationships into marriage would put them "outwith doctrinal understanding", a move sources say could effectively make them homeless or strip them of their livelihood.
People training to enter the clergy and in civil partnerships, accepted within the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), are also warned that if they marry they cannot be ordained. The ban also extends to 'lay readers', non-clergy trained to preach, teach and lead worship.
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Prominent SEC figures have now condemned their hierarchy, claiming there had been no expectation the bishops would make demands of the private lives of their clergy.
One source said the stance amounted to "direct discrimination" which remained lawful due to churches have exemptions from equalities legislation.
The moves comes as it emerges the Church of Scotland is to consider allowing same sex marriages among clergy for the first time at its annual gathering in May.
A move to allow ministers in same sex marriages could also be woven into plans for greater acceptance of gay ordination.
Days before same sex marriage became legal in Scotland, the SEC College of Bishops issued a statement on its position, saying it would be discussing whether to "opt in" to the legislation.
The SEC does not have a policy against ordaining non-celibate gay clergy and is said to "have a relaxed approach to clergy within civil partnerships".
But in a move sources claim is "very new indeed", it has banned gay clergy from marriage.
The statement reads: "As things stand, a clergyperson or lay reader who chooses to enter a same-sex marriage will put themselves in a position outwith the SEC's doctrinal understanding remains as currently expressed, the expectation of the Bishops is that clergy and lay readers will not enter into a same-sex marriage and that anyone considering such a step will consult their diocesan Bishop."
The move created friction and tensions from within the church, with one pressure group hitting out at the "threatening tone of this statement".
Rosemary Hannah, a member of staff of the Scottish Episcopal Institute, which trains SEC clergy, said: "How far are they (bishops) willing to alienate the younger members of their church, not just by espousing discriminatory views, but by governing in a way which, frankly, simply turns the stomach. It is so totally undemocratic as to be nauseating."
Dr Beth Routledge, member of the General Dynod, effectively the SEC parliament, and convener of LGBT church lobbyists Changing Attitude Scotland, said: "I know I speak for a lot of people in the SEC when I say that we have been made to feel angry and ashamed. We are all left asking questions about what kind of church we are, what kind of church we want to be, and what kind of church we want to belong to.
"I suspect that the answer is: not one that behaves like this."
An SEC spokeswoman said "robust internal dialogue" was part of the character of the church "and a reflection of the diversity of views and opinions within it".
She added: ""The SEC is currently in a period of discussion regarding its understanding of same-sex relationships and holds an open view of what its future policy might be. The guidance note from the College of Bishops is not intended to express a view about the outcome of that process. It will be for the Church's General Synod to make policy decisions about these matters."
Meanwhile, acting Principal Clerk of the Kirk, Rev Dr George Whyte, said: "The assembly could agree, with certain caveats, that ministers in same sex marriages could be treated in the same way as those in civil partnerships and that it would be right to do so at the 2015 assembly."