In a major development, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, is embracing marriage equality. At their annual conclave, they voted to allow their ministers to perform same-sex weddings where they’re legal.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PC(USA), took two major strides to embrace same-sex couples Thursday afternoon. While convening at their denominational convention in Detroit, Michigan, the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination voted to allow its pastors to officiate same-sex weddings in states where it is legal, and passed another overture that could change official church documents to include a more inclusive definition of marriage.
The two pieces of church legislation embrace marriage equality in different ways. The first is an “Authoritative Interpretation,” or AI, which allows PC(USA) pastors to officiate same-sex marriages in places where it is legal. The AI, which passed with 61 percent of the vote, allows Presbyterian pastors to decide on their own whether or not to perform same-sex weddings, and takes effect immediately.
The second overture, which passed with 71 percent of the vote, initiated a process of changing the denomination’s official language on marriage. The old language defined marriage as “a civil contract between a woman and a man,” but the overture moves to replace it with language that includes the sentence “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” Although the motion was affirmed by the PC(USA)’s General Assembly, it requires approval from the majority of the group’s 173 “presbyteries,” or regional groupings of churches, who will vote on the measure across the country over the next year or so.
Alex McNeill, Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians, an advocacy group that supports LGBT rights within the PC(USA), said that the decision was a pivotal moment for the denomination.
“Today is a historic day in the PC(USA),” McNeil told ThinkProgress. “After study, discernment, conversation and the movement of the Holy Spirit we have affirmed that all loving and committed couples are capable of being married in our church, and ministers can officiate at those wedding ceremonies without fear.”
I think this is just the beginning. Religion is not static, it evolves along with society. 200 years ago it was almost universally accepted in mainstream Christianity that slavery was a divine institution. 100 years ago, most Christian churches still embraced segregation and opposed interracial marriage. As LGBT equality becomes the dominant view in the world, the church will reinterpret its eternal and sacred texts to reflect that consensus, as it always has. The Episcopal church was ahead of the curve, now the Presbyterians are joining (part of them; the UPC won’t do it any time soon). Don’t be surprised to see Lutheran and Methodist groups do it next.