THE Church of Scotland last night backed the appointment of an openly gay minister.

Commissioners voted 326 to 267 in favour of appointing the Rev Scott Rennie, 37, currently at Brechin Cathedral, who had the support of the majority of the congregation at Queen's Cross in Aberdeen and the presbytery.

But the move sparked strong protest from traditionalist members which rippled across the world, with more than 12000 Christians from as far afield as Africa and the US signing an online petition against the appointment.

There had been concern that the vote could cause a split in the Church. Much of the four-hour debate was hemmed in by detailed legal discussion of Church procedural law amid claims from the floor of "a fudge".

The gathered commissioners at the supreme court meeting of the Church of Scotland heard how left handed people were once considered "not normal", how in Roman times faithful homosexual relationships were accepted, and how the Kirk had previously changed its mind over controversial issues such as its stance on female ministers.

Mr Rennie said last night: "The same talk was about when women were ordained and I think that argument suits those that don't want any change."

He said there are "many" gay ministers in the Church and rejected claims that his sexuality contradicts bible teachings.

"We don't stone women, we don't stone adulterers, we've moved on from that," he said. "The living word is Jesus and I think the question is, what would Jesus have done?"

Mr Rennie, who was married and has a child, was appointed minister of Brechin in Angus 10 years ago. The controversy erupted after 12 members from Aberdeen presbytery, none of whom are members of Queen's Cross, raised complaints over the appointment.