The Edinburgh Presbytery of the Church of Scotland has given its backing to civil partnerships, making it the first part of a major British denomination to support gay unions.

Last May The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly considered the issue of civil partnerships and 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.

Edinburgh is the first to consider the rules and has considered it beneficial as a way of creating a more positive symbol of the church.

Reverend Dr Iain Whyte, who blessed a gay couple in Edinburgh in 2004, told The Scotsman that approving the union will help keep people in the church, “If the church does allow this, it will send out a less negative signal to the public.

“If the church banned people from blessing a partnership, some of us would have to think seriously about our membership of the Church of Scotland.”

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, Evangelical groups within the church are encouraging followers to attend meetings in their individual areas to overturn the proposals.