The tide has turned for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples seeking to be married in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
Following years of debate and introspection, America’s largest Presbyterian denomination has announced a change to its constitution that allows for a more inclusive definition of marriage.
Officially called Amendment 14-F, the new wording in the denomination’s Book of Order will describe marriage as being “between two people.”
About 71 percent of PC (USA) leaders approved of the change during a general assembly meeting last June. The church had been waiting for a majority of its 171 Presbyteries, or regional bodies, to approve the measure one by one. On Tuesday, this majority was reached, with 86 Presbyteries handing in decisions to support same-sex marriage within the church.
“Today we are rejoicing!" said the Rev. Robin White, co-moderator of the LGBT advocacy group More Light Presbyterians. "So many families headed by LGBTQ couples have been waiting for decades to enter this space created for their families within their church communities.”
More Presbyteries will continue to hand in their decisions until June, when the amendment is scheduled to go into effect.
But not everyone agrees with the change. As of Tuesday, 41 Presbyteries have voted against Amendment 14-F. Although the updated Book of Order will describe marriage as "a unique commitment between two people," church leaders added a caveat explaining that it “traditionally” occurs “between a man and a woman.” The careful wording reflects a continuing tension between conservative and liberal factions within the 1.76 million-member church.
After last year’s assembly, PC(USA) ministers have been allowed to officiate at same-sex weddings in places where it is legal for LGBT people to tie the knot. Amendment 14-F won't make it mandatory for clergy to perform same-sex marriages, and clergy members who object to its wording will be allowed to refuse to officiate those ceremonies.
Hundreds of parishes have left the denomination in recent years, partly because of its more inclusive attitude toward LGBT members. The PC(USA) counted 10,959 member churches in 2005. That number dropped to 10,038 in 2013, according to church statistics provided to The Huffington Post. The decrease includes both churches that dissolved completely and churches that were dismissed to other denominations, including the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America and the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians -- neither of which ordains gay clergy or condones same-sex marriages.
The Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that has been advocating for LGBT members since 1997, has been tallying the results as they have come in throughout the year.
Executive Director Rev. Brian Ellison said that his group still has much more work to do.
“It’s an important moment for the church in that there really continues to be serious disagreement about this,” Ellison told HuffPost. “This moment is a real opportunity for us to struggle, to work through differences, but still be committed to each other.”