The Church of Scotland has backed a proposal which could allow the ordination of ministers in civil partnerships.
Earlier this week, the General Assembly voted 369 to 189 in favour of the draft legislation, which will now be discussed by the Kirk’s local presbyteries before it can become Church law.
An evangelical group within the Church of Scotland is “deeply saddened and dismayed” by the decision.
A statement from Forward Together said: “The Assembly has once again chosen to put the so-called ‘peace and unity’ of the Church, which is clearly lacking, before its duty to be a Church that honours the Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as its supreme rule of faith and life.
“This decision will cause great pain for members of the Church who struggle with same-sex attraction but who strive to maintain a celibate life, in accordance with the clear teaching of Scripture.
“It will cause great distress in many congregations throughout the Church of Scotland and it will destroy relations between the Church and many of our partners in the World Church.”
The General Assembly rejected a counter-motion, brought by evangelical minister Revd Jeremy Middleton, which called on commissioners to apply the Church’s current traditional stance on human sexuality.
Middleton said the Assembly’s proposal is not “legally watertight”.
“It runs the risk of putting the Church in a difficult and dangerous position in terms of claims that could be made on the basis of discrimination. There is a catalogue of loose ends”, he remarked.
Revd Hector Morrison, Principal of the Highland Theological College, also criticised the motion during the General Assembly gathering.
He said members have left the Church of Scotland because “they no longer trust our ability or our willingness to follow what they believe the Bible clearly states”.
“We cannot afford any other church families to be torn apart in this way. We cannot afford to lose any more ministers or budding ministers”, he added.
A total of 13 parish ministers have left the Kirk over the issue of gay clergy since 2009, when Revd Scott Rennie, who is gay, was appointed to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen.
In 2011, the General Assembly voted to accept gay ministers if they were open about their sexuality and were ordained before 2009.
The Church of Scotland’s 46 presbyteries will now discuss draft legislation, before it could be voted on again by the General Assembly next year.