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This morning had a good report from the Mission & Discipleship Council with some excellent work and resources being made available. I hope to report in more detail later tonight, but in this first report the focus on this afternoon’s debate on the proposed amendment to the Civil Partnerships Act that took up several hours.

The headlines are that the Motion to add Ministers and Deacons in Same Sex Marriage to the same protections as Civil Partnerships narrowly won over the Countermotion to refer the matter to the Theological Forum and report in 2017, the vote being 213 For the Motion and 205 For the Countermotion in the name of the Very Rev Albert Bogle. An addendum was approved (by 215 to 195) to send this down under the Barrier Act, and then a continued Moratorium provision to protect existing Ministers in Same Sex Marriages was agreed by standing vote.

The Joint Report of the Theological Forum and the Legal Questions Committee had been commissioned by last year’s General Assembly at the end of the debate on the Overture on Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships. They had been asked to consider what the Assembly might do with the Overture if it was approved by the Presbyteries and the General Assembly and the then proposed civil legislation on Same Sex Marriages was approved.

The Report had brought a draft Act amending the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act (approved last Saturday) to extend the provisions to Ministers and Deacons in Same Sex Marriages. The draft Act itself stressed that this would not change the historic and current doctrine of marriage, nor permit ministers or deacons to register civil partnerships or solemnise same sex marriages. The Rev Prof Iain Torrance, Convener of the Theological Forum made a great deal of these assurance, but was to continue providing the space for ‘Constrained Difference’.

The Convener of Legal Questions, Rev Dr Alan Hamilton, put much stress on this being a theological decision, and that the drafting of the legislation was only done to give the Assembly the choice of what to do, not suggesting that the Assembly should approve it. Professor Torrance kept referring to the benefits conferred on Civil Partners being enjoyed by those in Same Sex Marriages, and this caused a little confusion with pension and similar benefits, rather than benefits of office.

Albert sought to give the Church time to get there in peace and made a similar appeal to that he had made to the Assembly in 2013 when he successfully argued for the drafting of the original Overture, though perhaps not all were convinced by his claim to be a ‘simple minister’! He stressed how some would misunderstand the position being taken by the Assembly as the condoning of Same Sex Marriage if the Act was approved, a point helpfully affirmed by one of the delegates from the PCI, who was clearly very concerned about the damage this would make to relationships with his own and other churches across the world.

In the end, the electronic vote was taken and the Counter-motion was defeated. When an amendment proposing that the measure be sent down under the Barrier Act, there was significant debate, but interesting support from some on the other side of the debate from ourselves, who clearly wanted to give space for the decision, perhaps particularly in the light of the closeness of the vote, and also in the light of the pain it would cause many of us.

The moratorium provisions were then proposed by the Very Rev John Chalmers and seconded by Rev Gordon Kennedy, helpfully stressing the need for natural justice to apply, and reinforcing the fact that a witch hunt was on no-one’s agenda. Once tidied up, it was passed overwhelmingly.