March 18, 2015 at 12:37 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Presbyterians to support same-sex marriage
civil-rights bill, gay news, Washington Blade

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to support same-sex marriage.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) late Tuesday voted to change language in its constitution to accept same-sex marriage, bringing a major Christian denomination in support of gay nuptials.

According to a statement on the church’s website, the Office of the General Assembly was still awaiting an official tally Tuesday night, but Palisades Presbytery became the 86th presbytery to approve the language, giving it the majority support among the church’s 171 presbyteries.

The new language in the “Book of Order” doesn’t explicitly endorse same-sex marriage, but changes the description of marriage from a union “between a woman and a man” to being between “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

The presbyteries within the church have been voting on this change since last summer, when its 221st General Assembly approved the language, known as Amendment 14-F. It required support from a majority of church units to become part of the constitution.

The change is set to take effect on June 21, which is one year after the adjournment of last summer’s assembly, according to the church.

Clergy in the Presbyterian Church (USA) were already able to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies at their own discretion in states where such marriages are legal as a result of an approved an “authoritative interpretation” approved by the General Assembly last year. But that change, which went into effect last June, doesn’t require ministers to officiate same-sex weddings.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), which boasts 1.7 million members and is the largest body of Presbyterians in the country, has struggled with the issue of same-sex marriage for some time. According to the Associated Press, the church’s General Assembly rejected a proposal in 2012 to redefine marriage as a union between “two people.”

Other Christian denominations in the U.S. that support same-sex marriage include the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, which sued North Carolina to allow it to conduct same-sex marriages. Religions that continue to oppose same-sex marriage are the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

“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 Rev. Brian D. Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which advocates gay inclusion in the church, in an interview with the New York Times. “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.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the change is reflective of the growing support of marriage equality throughout the country.

“This is yet another powerful mainstream affirmation of America’s movement to embrace the freedom to marry as a reflection of the morality of treating everyone as we all would want to be treated,” said Wolfson.

The move was met with some criticism from conservatives in the church. Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community, a group of conservatives who have stayed in the church, told the New York Times, “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.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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