DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S. will allow pastors to preside at gay weddings in states that recognize same-sex marriage.
The Presbyterian General Assembly voted 61 percent to 39 percent in favor of allowing ministers to decide whether to perform the ceremonies. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage.
The vote came Thursday during a meeting of the church’s top legislative body in Detroit.
Alex McNeill, the Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians, says it’s a historic day.
“We are one of the largest denominations to have made a move to affirm same-sex marriage in this way,” McNeill told WWJ Newsradio 950’s Zahra Huber.
“It’s also historic because, as More Light, we’ve been working on this for 30 years: for inclusion and participation of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people within the church,” he said, “knowing that we needed to make sure that the love of gay and lesbian couples was affirmed within our denomination.”
The General Assembly also voted to change the definition of Christian marriage in the church constitution — but that vote still needs to be ratified.
McNeill, who is himself a transgender man, was there when the vote came in.
He’s looking forward to the future.
“It’s been a real challenge for ministers living in states where marriage is increasingly becoming legal between same-sex partners to be able to minister to those in their congregation,” said McNeil. “And it’s been really hard to hear from the church that that love was not celebrated and affirmed as marriage.”
In 2011, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) eliminated barriers to ordaining clergy with same-sex partners. Since then, 428 of the denomination’s more than 10,000 churches have left for other more conservative denominations or have dissolved.
The church now has about 1.8 million members.
TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.