(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
The U.S. Presbyterian Church on Tuesday (March 17) approved a change in the wording of its constitution to include same-sex marriage, a move which threatens to further splinter one of the largest U.S. mainline Protestant denominations.
A majority of the 171 regional "presbyteries," or local leadership bodies of the church, have now voted to change the wording of the constitution to define marriage as a commitment "between two people, traditionally a man and a woman."
That change in the Louisville, Kentucky-based church's constitution was recommended by its General Assembly last year and required a simple majority of 86 votes, achieved on Tuesday, the church said.
The new wording, which replaces "between a woman and a man," takes effect June 21.
"The approval allows teaching elders wider discretion whose wedding they may conduct and sessions wider discretion wider discretion whose weddings it may host. That discretion could include same-gender marriages in states where that is permitted. It is important to note that the determination of what couple a teaching elder will marry has and will continue to be with that teaching elder. Likewise, the determination by session as to whose wedding a congregation will host remains solely with the session. There is nothing in the amendment to compel any teaching elder to conduct a wedding against his or her judgment, nor a session to host one against its judgment," Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, said in a video statement.
"Teaching elders" is Presby-speak for pastor. A "session" is a church board.
"We see that this is a blessing of God upon a committed relationship for people who basically are people of faith. We are dealing with people of faith who are coming to the faith community, who happen to be same-gendered people in the faith community, that want that blessing to also be upon them. And so now we're extending it to say we are willing to bless those same-gendered marriages. And these are people of faith and they are people who often have been sitting on our pews for years waiting for such a moment or are already in civil marriages, but never allowed to be called what we would call 'Christian marriage' today. So that's really where our faith tradition is taking us," Rev. Dr. Robert Foltz-Morrison, the executive presbyter of the Presbytery of New York City said on Wednesday .
The church, also known as PCUSA, has more than 1.7 million members, but has lost more than 500,000 over the past decade. Some church leaders have expressed concern that endorsement of same-sex marriage could cause an exodus of parishioners who see it as incompatible with biblical teachings.
"People of good character will disagree and can disagree. We ask them to exercise mutual forbearance and hold fast to other things that we share common commitments. I mean it's not going to change us feeding the hungry. It's not going to change us finding places for the homeless. It's not going to change us doing many justice issues that we want. We may disagree on this particular one, but I'm asking us to hold together on that," said Rev. Foltz-Morrison.
"Will some people not want to perform them? Absolutely and that is permissible. Will other people say we are going to start performing marriages and people want to come to us? Yes, they will. So, it will go in different directions," he added.
In New York's Times Square, reaction was mixed to the decision of the PCUSA.
"I personally feel that my beliefs are that it's between a man and a woman. But I believe that each person has a right to choose and that's between them and God," said Stephanie, a visitor from Ohio.
\ "I understand that a lot of people want to just be recognized, women that are together or men that are together, they just want to be recognized, that union. And I believe that we should recognize that," Stephanie's sister, Patricia added. "I believe that we should allow them to file their taxes together, have insurance together, have the rights to when you go to the hospital, be a partner. I believe that it is totally recognizable and it should be that way. Because, if that's what they choose in life, then we should give them that right for that. But as far as the marriage, marriage, actually saying marriage, just from my personal beliefs from my upbringing, that is man and woman."
Patricia said she was raised in a Pentecostal family.
Brady, a visitor from Pittsburgh, said he supports same-sex marriage. "Being a guy that works in the theater and working in Pittsburgh, straight myself, I have so many friends and love is love. Let them do what they want to do."
Laura, a visitor from Italy, said, "Who decides what's right and what's wrong about the love? If a woman or a man can love each other, then why can't two women or two men can love each other?"
Her friend, Irene added, "I believe love is love, no matter what."
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this year to take up the issue of whether states can ban gay marriage, which is now allowed in at least 36 states and the District of Columbia.sign up to our newsletter