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Church of Scotland could stop conducting marriages after same-sex Bill

Kirk bosses are concerned about hefty legal bills brought about by legal challenges.

Marriage: Referendum demanded over same-sex marriages.

The Church of Scotland may stop conducting marriages if same-sex legislation leads to expensive court challenges.

MSPs were told on Thursday there are "deep concerns" in the Kirk about the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill currently going through Holyrood.

Rev Alan Hamilton, convener of the Kirk's legal questions committee, said the Bill could be an "invitation" to take religious bodies through the court system.

He told the Equal Opportunities Committee: "We are voluntary bodies. We rely upon the donations of our members, and the thought of years of exhausting legal challenge, which is also incredibly expensive, is really very concerning.

"That is why the General Assembly of 2013 in May of this year instructed my committee, together with other councils and committees of the Church of Scotland, to consider whether in fact - and I'm saying this colloquially, this is not the terms of the deliverance of the General Assembly - whether it's worth the Church of Scotland continuing to offer marriages in Scotland.

"It gives us considerable problems internally; we're deeply concerned about the threat externally."

The Church of Scotland called for freedom of religious belief and practice to be respected when the Scottish Government published its proposal in June.

Mr Hamilton appeared before the committee with representatives of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Free Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and lobby group Scotland for Marriage, who all have concerns about the Bill.

Religious bodies who wish to perform same-sex marriages will have to opt in, the Government said when it lodged the Bill in June. It said protection will also be in place for individual celebrants who consider such ceremonies to be contrary to their faith.

Mr Hamilton said individuals or groups could end up taking religious bodies to court if they decide not to offer same-sex services. They may be "disappointed" that a denomination or celebrant is not prepared to conduct the ceremony, he said.

The official terms of the instruction to the Kirk's legal questions committee emerged in a "remits booklet" report by the General Assembly. It calls for the committee to "explore the possibility of ministers and deacons ceasing to act as civil registrars for the purpose of solemnizing marriages and report to the General Assembly of 2015".

Rev David Robertson, Free Church minister in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, also appeared before MSPs.

Following the session, he said: "What the Scottish Government is doing with this Bill is effectively turning all marriages into civil partnerships, and therefore destroying marriage."We do not accept that any government has the right to redefine marriage any more than it has the right to redefine a circle as a square.

"We also believe that the Scottish Government is rushing into this without a proper understanding of the consequences of this fundamental change in society."

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