Kirk's General Assembly moves towards allowing gay marriage
The Church of Scotland has backed a report which could lead to same-sex marriages in church.
The Very Reverend Iain Torrance told the Assembly there was no theological reason to oppose the change.
But Prof Torrance, who convenes the church's Theological Forum, said it should not prejudice the position of ministers opposed to equal marriage.
The Assembly accepted the forum's recommendations and a detailed plan will now be drawn up.
The governing body of the Kirk, holding its annual meeting in Edinburgh, considered a report from the Theological Forum which proposed that it approves a detailed study of how same-sex marriage ceremonies in church could be allowed.
It also called for the church to apologise for its past treatment of gay people.
Prof Torrance said: "We see this as permissive rather than directive.
"We say that after reflection we can see no sufficient theological reason for the Church now not to authorize specific ministers to officiate at same-sex weddings, if doing so does not prejudice the position of those who decline to do so for reasons of conscience."
He added: "I hope, I pray, we are moving to a different stage in this long argument.
"We can begin perhaps by saying gently to those with whom we have disagreed, I am sorry.
"That notion of an apology is directly linked to taking this into a non-binary stage and trying to think these pieces differently with a different perception."
The Assembly agreed the church's Legal Questions Committee should look at the practicalities of a move to allow same-sex marriage in church.
Scotland has allowed same-sex couples to marry since 2014.
However, individual church traditions can each decide whether to participate.
Equal marriage has remained a divisive issue within the Church of Scotland.
The report prepared for the General Assembly invited the church to take stock of its history of discrimination against gay people and to apologise "individually and corporately".
The development follows the appointment of the church's first openly gay minister, Rev Scott Rennie in 2009, and last year's decision to allow ministers to be in same-sex marriages.
Contrasting views were expressed during the debate, which included a contribution from Mr Rennie.
He said: "I want people who see things differently to be protected - I don't want to be in a Church where everyone has to agree with me.
"I thank the forum for recognising the Christian vocation of LGBT people in this Church."
Rev Steven Reid spoke against the proposals, which he said were a "difficult issue" for the Church.
"I question the balance of the report," he said.
Rev Lezley Stewart said the report had provided a middle ground.
"It's not about throwing people on one side or the other under the traffic," she said.