The Church of Scotland took a step closer to allowing gay ministers following a majority presbytery vote.
A total of 28 out of a possible 45 Kirk presbyteries voted in favour of a "mixed economy" proposal, with 11 voting against and six still outstanding.
The vote means a draft legislation can now be put together and referred for a final review by the General Assembly in May, when around 800 commissioners will decide on whether to pass it into Church Law.
The issue of whether the Church should appoint a minister who is in a civil partnership has caused controversy, with a number of Kirk ministers quitting over the matter.
Rev Dr George Whyte, acting principal clerk for the Kirk, told the Scotsman: "Some ministers have left as a result of the issue; for some the discussion itself was too far. It is clear to all that civil law and public opinion is changing much quicker than the church.
"Many ministers already allow and conduct the blessing of civil partnerships and people who have decided to commit to one another.
"However, this is not happening in a more, let's say Herbidean setting, but each time we have voted, the gap has grown wider in favour of the proposal."
Three Edinburgh churches also have also quit the Kirk over the issue of allowing the congregation to appoint gay ministers.