Church warns its ministers they may be sued for refusing to wed gay couples

Church of Scotland officials have warned ministers may be taken to court if they refuse to wed gay couples.

The church’s general assembly will next month consider a report by the legal questions committee (LQC) of the organisation which warns the church may be “vulnerable to legal challenge” as it falls foul of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The report states: “The scheme enables bodies, such as the Church of Scotland, and individual celebrants to be authorised to conduct different-sex marriages while at the same time refraining from seeking authorisation to conduct same-sex marriages.

“This legal structure may be argued to be discriminatory contrary to Articles 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

It adds that the solution is not to stop solemnising all marriages as this would “rob ministers of one significant and evangelical opportunity” given as marriage is seen as an an “important aspect of their ministry”.

Legislation governing same-sex marriage became law in December.

The Scottish government said it protects those who do not want to conduct ceremonies.

However, the LQC said that, in the event a legal challenge to the scheme were successful, it would be repealed and probably replaced with a scheme requiring those who undertake different-sex marriages to also wed gay couples.

The report adds: “It might mean the exclusion of churches which are unwilling to instruct their clergy to conduct same-sex marriages from an important part of the life of the nation.”

According to a Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 68 per cent of people in Scotland were in favour of same-sex marriage.

The LQC report concludes: “The Church and Society Council recognises the important social and pastoral role played by ministers and deacons in relation to marriages, and welcomes the commitment of the Scottish Government in seeking to maintain that role in changed circumstances.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We have established a robust legal framework so that the position of religious bodies who do not wish to take part in same-sex marriage is fully respected.”

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