The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) has voted to allow same-sex couples to be married in church.
A proposal to amend canon law to permit clerics to conduct weddings for gay couples was backed at the annual meeting of the church’s general synod in Edinburgh.
Under the terms of the vote, clergy who do not wish to preside over same-sex weddings will not be compelled to do so “against their conscience”.
The historic decision makes the SEC the first branch of the Anglican faith in the UK to allow same-sex marriage.
Equal-rights campaigners were quick to welcome the decision.
However, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said the vote puts the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with the majority stance within the Anglican Communion.
In approving the proposal, church members voted to remove the doctrinal clause which stated that marriage is a “union of one man and one woman”.
It was replaced with a “conscience clause” which states: “In the light of the fact that there are differing understandings of the nature of marriage in this church, no cleric of this church shall be obliged to conduct any marriage against their conscience.”
A two-thirds majority was required in each house of Bishops, Clergy and Laity for the measure to be accepted.
The proposal was passed with 80% support from the Bishops and Laity, while 67% of the Clergy backed the move.
A first reading of the motion to amend Canon 31 was passed by the General Synod in 2016 and it returned for its second and final reading this year.
Same-sex weddings could be held within the church by the autumn of this year, reports have suggested.
Responding to the vote, Primus of the SEC, the Most Rev David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, said: “This is a momentous step.
“By removing gender from our marriage canon, our church now affirms that a same-sex couple are not just married but are married in the sight of God. They can ‘leave and cleave’.
“They can express in marriage a commitment to lifelong faithfulness to one another and to the belief that a calling to marriage is for them too a calling to love, forgiveness, sacrifice, truth.
“A new chapter opens up – inclusion has taken a particular form.
“This same decision is difficult and hurtful for others whose integrity in faith tells them that this decision is unscriptural and profoundly wrong.
“For them, this new chapter will feel like an exclusion - as if their church has moved away from them.
“So, the journey which we now begin must also be a journey of reconciliation.”
Colin Macfarlane, director of gay-rights charity Stonewall Scotland, voiced delight at the change.
“This step allows couples to celebrate their love within their faith and sends a really positive message to other LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, both here and around the world,” he said.
“It signals that members of the church welcome, recognise and respect LGBT people as part of the faith community.”
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon said the churches of the Anglican Communion are free to make their own decisions on canon law, with the SEC being one of 38 provinces covering more than 165 countries around the world.
He added: “Today’s decision by the SEC to approve changes to canon law on marriage is not a surprise, given the outcome of the vote at its synod a year ago.
“There are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion but this puts the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with the majority stance that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
“This is a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage.”