Members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Tuesday to change its official definition of marriage to include same-sex unions. The New York Times reports:
The final approval by a majority of the church’s 171 regional bodies, known as presbyteries, enshrines a change recommended last year by the church’sGeneral Assembly. The vote amends the church’s constitution to broaden marriage from being between “a man and a woman” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”
The Presbytery of the Palisades, meeting in Fair Lawn, N.J., put the ratification count over the top on Tuesday on a voice vote. With many presbyteries still left to vote, the tally late Tuesday stood at 87 presbyteries in favor, 41 against and one tied.
“Finally, the church in its constitutional documents fully recognizes that the love of gays and lesbian couples is worth celebrating in the faith community,” said the Rev. Brian D. Ellison, executive director of theCovenant Network of Presbyterians, which advocates gay inclusion in the church. “There is still disagreement, and I don’t mean to minimize that, but I think we are learning that we can disagree and still be church together.”
The church, with about 1.8 million members, is the largest of the nation’s Presbyterian denominations, but it has been losing congregations and individual members as it has moved to the left theologically over the past several years. There was a wave of departures in and after 2011, when the presbyteries ratified a decision to ordain gays and lesbians as pastors, elders and deacons, and that may have cleared the way for Tuesday’s vote.
In June, the Church voted to allow clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages. As recently as November, church clergy were still said to be deeply divided over the question of same-sex marriage.
Though many conservatives remain opposed to marriage equality, not all plan to leave the church:
Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community, a group of conservatives who have stayed in the church, said: “Our objection to the passage of the marriage amendment is in no way, shape or form anti-gay. It is in no way intended as anything but concern that the church is capitulating to the culture and is misrepresenting the message of Scripture.”
He added, “We definitely will see another wave, a sizable wave, of conservative folks leaving,” but said he and others were staying because “this conversation is dreadfully important to be a part of.”