JOHN Swinney has said he “profoundly disagrees” with Kate Forbes on gay marriage and SNP members need to think if someone with her views would be an “appropriate” leader.

The deputy First Minister was speaking amid calls for Ms Forbes to quit the SNP leadership race after she staked out a series of jaw-dropping moral positions yesterday.

The Skye MSP, who is a devout member of the Free Church of Scotland, said she would have not have supported gay marriage if she had been an MSP when it was passed.

She also questioned whether people should have children outside marriage and said she considered trans women to be biological men, a possible breach of SNP rules.

READ MORE: Call for Kate Forbes to quit SNP contest as row deepens

Toni Giugliano, the SNP’s policy convener, last night called on Ms Forbes to quit the race as it was damaging the party and the independence cause.

Asked about the fallout from the race, Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland that the debate around Ms Forbes’ position had “absolutely nothing” to do with her faith.

He said: “I’m a man of deep Christian faith, but I don’t hold the same views as Kate has set out in the course of the last couple of days.

“I think it’s been unhelpful that the debate has been focused on the question of faith, because in my view it’s got nothing to do with faith.

“There are plenty of churches… the Church of Scotland undertakes same-sex marriage and I warmly compliment and congratulate the Church of Scotland on getting carefully to that position over some years.”

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Asked if Ms Forbes should have “dialled back” and “not spoken so freely”, Mr Swinney said: “I’m not going to give advice to candidates on the airwaves about these questions.

“I think what party members have got to consider - Kate’s perfectly entitled to express her views - but party members are equally entitled to decide if someone who holds those views will be an appropriate individual to be SNP leader and first minister.

“That right and that entitlement of party members to make that judgment is made available to them if a person comes forward and sets out their views.

“So we can’t really have any complaints about the democratic airing and resolution of this question.

“If Kate wants to set out those views, with which I profoundly disagree despite being a man of deep faith, then the party membership will make their judgment about those views and whether they think those views are appropriate for someone to hold if they are leader of the SNP and first minister.”

Asked if Health Secretary Humza Yousaf had his backing, Mr Swinney said he would wait for the close of nominations on Friday before deciding about endorsing a candidate.

READ MORE: Letters - Kate Forbes needs to stand aside

Asked if he was reconsidering his own position and might stand for leader after all, he said he decided last week it was “time to open up space for other people to contribute”.

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “John Swinney has seriously undermined Kate Forbes, his former protege, by questioning her appropriateness to be SNP leader.

“This leadership race is turning increasingly bitter, revealing deep divisions within the SNP on everything that isn’t about breaking up the UK.

“As the SNP move further and further away from the real priorities of the Scottish people, only the Scottish Conservatives will stand up to their damaging obsession with another independence referendum and get the focus onto the issues that really matter.”

Ash Regan, who quit as a minister over the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reforms, will formally launch her campaign on Friday.

She said last night she firmly supports gay marriage.

Social security minister Ben Macpherson today ruled himself out of the contest.

Nominations in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon close on Friday, with the winner announced around March 27.