CHURCH weddings for same-sex couples are expected to be held for the first time in Scotland this autumn in what will be a major milestone for gay rights campaigners across the UK, The Herald understands.

The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) is expected to become the first major faith to take the unprecedented step within months after the majority of its General Synod backed a motion to officiate gay marriages.

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In March, six of the seven diocesan synods of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted in favour of a proposal to amend canon law to allow clerics to conduct marriages for same-sex couples in church. Only the diocesan synod of Aberdeen & Orkney voted against the change.

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A first reading of the motion to remove from Canon 31 the doctrinal statement that marriage is to be understood as a union “of one man and one woman” was passed by the Church’s General Synod, last year.

A second reading will now be debated during the next sessions of the General Synod, in Edinburgh, from June 8 to 10

Last night a senior source within the church said that "given what happened last year and with the diocese, people are expecting it to go through".

And they added: "We don't know for sure yet but the first one would probably be early autumn."

Clergy who do not wish to preside over same-sex weddings within the SEC will not be compelled to do so.

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The Bishop of Edinburgh, the Rt Rev John Armes, will commend a motion to change church law that includes a conscience clause for those who do not wish to officiate at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual marriages that would reinforce the vote in favour of change at the last Synod.

Clergy who want to officiate over gay weddings will put themselves forward for nomination nominate to do so, while those who are against carrying out same sex marriages need not officiate.

Bishops will decide which churches can be made available on a case-by-case basis and whether non-religious settings are appropriate for church weddings.

"Marriages not in SEC Church buildings, written permission for marriages to take place in buildings other than a church building of the SEC must be sought from the bishop in whose diocese the alternative venue is situated," said Rt Rev John Armes.

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The College of Bishops reveal in the report to go before members at the annual gathering in Edinburgh that allowing same sex marriages in church would be "received with support and enthusiasm in many quarters".

"At the same time, we recognise that not all are content and for some the matter is one of deep distress," it says.

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There has been no indication that any of the church's 54,000 members will quit the denomination in protest though some opposition is expected at the Synod and a backlash from some Anglicans is likely.

The move will put the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with The Church of England, despite indications from the latter that it is edging towards a more tolerant stance.

Other denominations including the Church of Scotland are taking strides towards marriage equality.

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The Kirk last week took another step closer to allowing LGBT weddings, but this still may be up to six years away.

The Scottish Episcopal Church last year became the first of any branch of the Anglican faith to pave the way towards allowing its clergy to perform same sex marriages.

At that stage the General Synod voted that the change to its canon law governing marriage should be sent for discussion to the Church's seven dioceses and their response is now revealed.

Last year the Synod vote received support from five of seven bishops, 69 per cent of the clergy and 80 per cent of the laity – indicating that it has a good chance of succeeding now.

The proposal would remove the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman.

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Clause 1 from Canon 31 to be erased is: "1The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God."

A new Clause 1 reads: "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.

"Any marriage which is to be conducted by a cleric shall be solemnised strictly in accordance with the civil law of Scotland."

Same sex marriage became law in Scotland in 2014.