THE Church of Scotland has paved the way to allowing same sex marriage in church after a historic debate that also backed a formal apology to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people for decades of discrimination.

The landmark move came after more than three hours of highly charged and emotional debate at the Church’s General Assembly, the annual gathering of senior Kirk figures, in Edinburgh, but it is believed same sex Kirk marriages may still be up to six years away.

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Former Moderator the Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, below, convener of the Theological Forum which set out grounds for the apology and also to prepare steps towards allowing same sex marriage in church, said the Kirk would examine legal protection for minsters who "decline to officiate as a matter of conscience".

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Rev Scott Rennie, below, the openly gay minister whose 2009 appointment to an Aberdeen church became the reference point of the modern sexuality debate within the church, gave the assembly of around 730 commissioners an impassioned account of his personal struggle.

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He said: “I’m tired of coming year after year to this assembly hall and seeing people like me and other LGBT Christians reduced to sex, sexual practices and it seems to me to be an unhealthy obsession with sex by some straight men.

“This never happens to heterosexuals and in their relationships.”

He went on: “If you lived with me you would know that I can be as untidy as anything and my husband Dave has to put up with my failure to see and tidy up the mess.

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“In difficult times it is Dave who has shown me the faithfulness of God.

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“In periods when the sheer strain of working for an institution which often feels hostile and whose thoughtlessness and carelessness has resulted in depression and anxiety for me it is he who has been there every day of my life.”

He said: "There's no one in this hall can truthfully say that his love does not reflect the love of Jesus."

Rev Steven Reid, of Crossfield linked with Kirkfieldbank said of the report there was “reference about what Jesus says about marriage in Heaven but no reference about marriage on Earth”.

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Scripture was debated

He said that "probably the most important [issue] is the lack of serious engagement with the teaching of the Bible itself.

"There's a large section on Scripture which almost seems that the section is there in order to not engage with what Scripture says."

Rev Howard Hudson, of Glasgow Bridgeton St Francis in the East, quizzed the Kirk's stance in relation to the position of marriage being between a man and a woman.

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He said: "The report speaks about the authority of Jesus Christ speaking in the Scripture so how should we in the light of this report interpret Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 19 and Mark chapter 10 that marriage is between a man and a woman?"

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Above: The Mound

Professor Torrance said: "I think we also relate that verse to a series of other verses, and we read that verse as not being a definitive account of the only possible relationship.”

He said the spirit of the report was seeking to hold a middle-of-the-road position that “does not throw people from either side under the bus”.

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Challenged over the make-up of the forum, he said there was “diversity in terms of age and gender, and robust representation” of conservatism, and that 100 per cent of members of the forum have academic qualifications.

In one of a number of motions and counter-motions, Rev Dr Andrew Gardner, who has the international charge of Brussels St Andrews, had a push to shelve the process rejected.

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Above: Some votes were close

He called on the assembly to "instruct the forum to engage in further reflection on the issues surrounding same-sex marriage and bring to a future general assembly a further report that deals with the spectrum of views on this issue," but the motion was heavily defeated.

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He said: "Having read the report I was a wee bit disappointed with it. I don't believe that this report serves our general assembly as well as it could.

He said the report referenced "only one side of a very complex argument".

Rev Jonathan de Groot, below, of Glasgow Sandyford Memorial, gave notice of dissent, a recorded stance against the agreed move which does not affect the decision.

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Rev Peter Johnston, below, of Ferryhill Parish Church, said his 17-year-old daughter is “proudly" gay and added: "I make no apologies for this being very personal.”

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He said: “I’m thankful for a congregation in which she can feel inclusion.”

But he said at this stage he would have to reject officiating at her church marriage, saying “the Church would not allow it”.

"This has been clawing at my heart for these past few years."

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