In a historic vote on Thursday, the 1.76 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to allow pastors to officiate gay marriages in states where it is legal.
The measure passed by a vote of 429-175 during the church’s biennial General Assembly in Detroit. The church changed the Book of Order to define marriage as being between “two people.” The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination, with over 10,000 churches across the country.
The vote came after hours of heated debate, and follows a 2011 vote by the group to allow the ordination of open gay men and women in same-sex relationships.
“This is a glorious day for the church and for LGBT people who have been seeking full inclusion here for decades” said Rev. Randy Bush, the co-moderator of the board for pro-LGBT church group Covenant Network.
The Presbyterian Lay Committee, a collection of theologically conservative Presbyterians, condemned the vote, saying in a statement “The General Assembly has committed an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God’s clear commands and the denominational ordination vows of each concurring commissioner.”
The committee later went on to describe the vote as an “abomination.”
The PCUSA is part of a growing trend of churches favoring gay marriage. In 2013 the Episcopal Church began allowing same-sex marriages, even in states where it is not legal. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows church ministers to make decisions on gay marriage separate from the national church. Two of the three major Jewish denominations, Reform and Conservative, also allow same-sex unions.
Although it is still unforeseen how many members PCUSA will lose because of this ruling, they did lose a staggering amount of members due to their 2011 vote. Before the vote the denomination had 2.1 million members, and its current membership is now 1.76 million.