Minister defies Kirk on 'gay weddings'

Aberdeenshire, Scotland - THE Kirk's fragile alliance over gay weddings has been blown apart after a minister revealed she would use her church to bless the civil partnerships of four homosexual couples.

Aberdeenshire minister the Rev Kim Cran will go ahead with the blessings, even though she risks disciplinary action if an official complaint is made.

Traditionalists have condemned the move as inflammatory, and warned it risks splitting the Kirk. Last year, the majority of the Kirk's local branches - the presbyteries - voted to reject a new rule allowing clerics to conduct the ceremonies without fear of punishment.

But church leaders are anxious to avoid the acrimony over homosexuality that has divided the Anglican Church internationally, amid concerns that it would further weaken Presbyterianism's already diminished influence in Scottish public life.

Cran, the minister of Chapel of Garioch and Blairdaff, in the Presbytery of Gordon, confirmed she had been approached by four couples with a view to holding ceremonies in the church to bless same-sex civil partnerships.

Although civil partnerships may only be conducted by registrars, some gay churchgoers want the opportunity to give their legal union a church "seal of approval".

Cran said: "As a parish minister, I have been approached by four couples, and I have the four dates in the diary for later this year. I plan to conduct the ceremonies."

Prior to being a Church of Scotland minister, Cran served in the US with a denomination which did allow blessings of gay relationships. Last year, she called for practising homosexuals to be allowed to be ministers.

She said: "My views on this matter are well known. I believe in an open and inclusive Church which does not turn people away."

Whether she will be breaking Kirk rules by blessing civil partnerships will be hotly debated.

The Church's General Assembly last year narrowly decided not to pass a Declaratory Act - a ruling which would have said that a minister blessing such a relationship could not be disciplined.

The assembly decided instead to canvass its 46 presbyteries across Scotland and abroad. Last November, it emerged four-fifths of them had thrown out the proposal, effectively leaving the door open for disciplinary action.

However, experts in Kirk law argue that rejecting the Declaratory Act does not necessarily mean a minister will be disciplined for blessing the partnerships, as no clear rules on such ceremonies exist.

A senior Church insider said: "From the point of view of writing rules and law, the overall effect [of not passing the Act] is that there is no effect on the rules. It will still basically be up to local presbyteries to decide."

Cran's insistence that she will go ahead with the blessings has provoked anger from Kirk traditionalists, who argue the Bible teaches that homosexual relationships are sinful.

The Rev Ian Watson, secretary of the evangelical grouping Forward Together, said: "The presbyteries have decided decisively to reject the Declaratory Act. While, legally speaking, there may be no change in the law, to go ahead and mark a civil partnership with a religious ceremony shows contempt for the mind of the Church."

Watson said neither he nor other senior members of his group planned to raise a complaint about the issue.

But there was a possibility, he added, that any churchgoer, or even someone outside the church, could lodge an official complaint. It was then up to the local presbytery to decide how to act.

But the OneKirk grouping - a middle-of-the-road body between ultra-liberal and traditionalist extremes in the Church - said it was up to Cran whether she should go ahead or not. "How a minister gives a blessing is for themselves to decide, based on what they believe scripture to say and how they feel themselves," said the Rev Peter Johnson.

The Church of England has been split over the issue of sexuality since the ordination of the openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in the US in 2003.