A SUPPORT group for the Highland gay community will invite church leaders – who are angry at the prospect of same-sex marriage – to debate the controversial issue with its members.
The Scottish Government is expected to make a decision on the proposal next week when the cabinet meets after almost 80,000 responses were received in a huge public consultation.
A majority of MSPs already back the prospect of new legislation while the SNP government said it was "minded" to allow gay people to marry.
However, the proposal has met with fierce opposition from a range of religious denominations and churchgoers which claim marriage should remain a union between a man and union.
Joanne Mackenzie-Winters, of the Highland Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Forum, said it was hopeful a decision would be made which would make everybody equal in terms of marriage.
The group’s committee met in Inverness on Thursday and plans to invite denominations from across the region for talks.
She said it had been heartened by the fact most Highland Christians already treat its members with respect but had been disappointed with some of the views expressed.
"The leaders of some church denominations have made it clear that their interpretation of scripture leads them to disapprove of LGBT sexuality and equal marriage and sadly this has fuelled prejudice," said Ms Mackenzie-Winters.
"However, we tend to believe that many individual church members think that Christian love trumps such scriptural interpretations and behave towards their LGBT neighbours in a totally accepting and supportive way.
"We expect that many Highland church leaders will be dismayed should equal marriage be brought in, but they will find it increasingly difficult to argue against equality while at the same time trying to sound like loving and compassionate Christians."
Ms Mackenzie-Winters said the forum will invite local churches and faith organisations to speak face-to-face with individual LGBT people so that "we can all gain a better understanding of each others’ positions".
She claimed many Christians in the Highlands were gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender and it was "destructive" when they felt excluded from their own churches.
Highland list MSPs including Labour’s Rhoda Grant and David Stewart and SNP duo John Finnie and Jean Urquhart have already signed a pledge backing same-sex marriage.
Several politicians have indicated they believe religious denominations should retain the power to decide whether same-sex ceremonies can be held in their churches.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch SNP MSP Dave Thompson, a member of an Inverness Kirk, has previously said he was not in favour of a change in the current law while Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon is undecided on the issue and but there had been huge interest in the issue among her constituents.
She said that she was keen to look at the consultation responses when they are published and examine any proposal that may come before Parliament.
"From the volume of mail I have received from people across the Highlands on this subject I know it is a matter which is generating significant interest on both sides of the argument," said Mrs Scanlon.
If same-sex marriages were to be given the green light, a Bill could be introduced into the parliament next year.