The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted on June 19 to allow gay and
lesbian weddings within the church, making it among the largest Christian
denominations to take an embracing step toward same-sex marriage.
By a 61-39 percent vote, the General Assembly of the 1.8
million-member PCUSA voted to allow pastors to perform gay marriages in states
where they are legal. Delegates, meeting in Detroit, also approved new
language about marriage in the church’s Book of Order, or constitution,
altering references to “a man and woman” to “two persons.”
This change will not become church law until a majority of the
172 regional presbyteries vote to ratify the new language. But given the
lopsided vote, approval is expected.
Gay rights activists within the church rejoiced at their victory,
which was remarkable for its margin of victory after multiple years of
razor-thin defeats. “This vote is an answer to many prayers for the church to
recognize love between committed same-sex couples,” said Alex McNeill,
executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a group that has led the
fight for gay marriage within the church.
The vote came after an emotional but polite debate in which opponents
of the motion said it conflicted with Scripture and would cause
Presbyterian churches abroad to break relations with the PCUSA.
The Presbyterian Lay Committee, which opposes gay marriage, urged congregations
to launch a financial boycott out of protest.
“The Presbyterian Lay Committee mourns these actions and calls on all
Presbyterians to resist and protest them,” the group said in a statement. ”
… You should refuse to fund the General Assembly, your synod, your
presbytery and even your local church if those bodies have not explicitly and
publicly repudiated these unbiblical actions.”
“God will not be mocked,” the statement continued, “and those who
substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be
found guiltless before a holy God.”
Under the new rules, pastors who do not want to preside over gay
weddings are not obligated to, and the change applies only in the
19 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex civil marriage is
The church has long grappled with the issue, which came to a head at
the last General Assembly, in 2012, when a similar resolution allowing for gay
marriage lost 338-308. Since then, the church’s decades-long decline in
membership—it has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992—has
continued. These losses have been led by conservative-leaning congregations
that defected over what they lamented as the church’s embrace of more
Those defections—many to smaller and more conservative Presbyterian
denominations—made it more likely that the General Assembly
would approve a gay marriage resolution this year.
Some who voted in favor of the gay marriage resolution said they hoped
it would draw people to the church. “I fear that our church brand is in
jeopardy,” said church member and public relations professional Margaret
Blankers to the General Assembly. “Some question the relevance of a church they
see is not living up to its reputation for fairness. Do we really want to be
known for not accepting and embracing our LGBT brothers and sisters?”
The General Assembly’s vote reflects change in the nation, where
in rapid succession during the past year, judges have struck down laws
prohibiting same-sex marriage. And a steady stream of opinion polls
shows Americans’ approval of gay marriage has risen dramatically in the past
few years, to around 55 percent today.
But even against this backdrop, the General Assembly’s vote stands out
as a church adapting its policy to fit a rapidly shifting culture even as
most other Christian denominations have resisted.
The nation’s largest churches—Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist,
Mormon, United Methodist and most evangelical churches—recognize marriage only
as between a man and a woman, though many Methodists are pushing for a
change. The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
and the United Church of Christ all allow same-sex marriage.