The Church of Scotland may become the first major denomination in Britain to bless gay “marriages” after agreeing that individual ministers should be free to decide on the issue.

Scotland’s national church considered the issue of civil partnerships in a legal questions session at a meeting of its General Assembly, which is taking place all this week.

In a controversial vote, which many ministers had threatened to resign over, 372 votes to 240 supported giving individual laymen the freedom to bless civil partnerships.

The General Assembly agreed that although a decision would not be made until next year, “a minister or deacon who conducts any service marking a civil partnership does not commit a disciplinary offence.

“No minister or deacon shall be compelled or obliged to conduct such a service against his or her conscience.

“Where a minister or deacon officiating at such service has been approached by the parties in the first instance, or where a minister or deacon so approached officiates in circumstances where the parish minister has declined to officiate, such minister or deacon shall not be deemed to have intruded upon the sphere of ministry of a parish minister.”

Individual presbyteries will now be consulted and a vote will be held the following year.