The Kirk’s leadership agreed to allow gay ministers who were ordained before May 2009 -- when a temporary ban was imposed after the appointment of the Reverend Scott Rennie in Aberdeen -- to put themselves forward to take over congregations if they chose to do so.
However, a decision on whether to allow gay men and women to be ordained in the future will be delayed for two years until the report of a theological commission is received.
Kirk leaders said they believed gay ministers already ordained would not push for open recognition while the new theological commission is undertaken.
Traditionalists were defeated by 351 votes to 294 votes after a six-hour debate at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh on the issue of the induction and ordination of those in same-sex relationships.
A two-year consultation by the Church found that tens of thousands of members would quit if the ordination of gay men and women was allowed.
It is understood there had already been talks between some Highland Kirk members and the more traditionalist Free Church of Scotland.
The General Assembly voted to maintain a ban on members speaking publicly on the issue until 2013, but is understood the evangelical wing will maintain a schismatic stance.
Today traditionalists will sign a “document of dissent” maintaining their position. “It was a surprise … but it is a fight for another day now,” one said.
Professor Bill Naphy, a theo-logist based at Aberdeen University, said: “The result is actually rather bizarre. This seems to suggest that an individual church can call a gay or lesbian minister as long as the person has been ordained for two years and is ‘openly’ gay.
“What about those who are closeted? If they are elected and subsequently come out would their post be in question?
“It is also not clear to me what would happen to a minister already in a post who now comes out. It seems that the Kirk has, explicitly but with ‘restrictions’, accepted that a gay/lesbian person can indeed have a vocation and serve a congregation in the Kirk. That being the case, why the restrictions?”
Traditionalists said the move to allow gay ministers who were in same-sex relationships before 2009 to come out would be an unacceptable “amnesty” and “potentially multiply homosexual inductions the length and breadth of the country“.
Rev David Randall of Larbert Old Church said the move “opens the door to de facto revisionism” and would be a Trojan horse for liberalism. However, liberal minister the Rev Lezley Stewart, of Currie Chruch, Edinburgh claimed that this was scaremongering.”
Rev Graeme Brown, of Birsay and Rousay parishes on Orkney, said: “I can’t go on living with discrimination. I want to vote for the end of the moratorium.”
Carl Watt, director of Stonewall Scotland, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, said: “We hope the decision signals the start of the Kirk demonstrating a commitment to fairness, equality and dignity on this issue.”