Earlier this week, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ratified a proposal that removes a celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, essentially allowing PCUSA churches to hire gay clergy members.
The 2.1 million-member denomination, based in Louisville, Ky., became the latest mainline Protestant denomination to move toward accepting same-gender relationships.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church voted to allow gay clergy in 2009, Episcopalians consecrated their first openly gay bishop in 2003 and the United Church of Christ started ordaining openly gay clergy in 1972.
"Change within the Presbyterian Church did not occur in a vacuum," Dr. Michael Adee, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a group which has advocated for gay and lesbian clergy within the denomination, said. "The witness of change from the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the example of the Metropolitan Community Churches inspired Presbyterians to end discrimination and take this stand for justice."
The PCUSA change - the amendment removes an ordination requirement to live in "... fidelity
within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness" - was endorsed last year for the third time since 1998 by the denomination's national assembly, but it required approval by a majority of the denomination's 173 regional church bodies (or presbyteries).
The amendment, substituting for the celibacy requirement, now requires ministers to "submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life."
The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, based in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., cast the deciding 87th vote on the amendment Tuesday night.
The regional body governing Chattanooga area churches, the Presbytery of East Tennessee, narrowly voted for the amendment in February. In the latest round of balloting, 19 presbyteries switched their vote in favor of ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy candidates for ministry.
Officials on all sides of the issue, according to the Associated Press, said the amendment passed because of the change in broader American society toward accepting same-sex relationships, weariness of the debate and the departure of some conservative churches from presbyteries, which changed the balance of votes in some regions.
The new policy will take effect on July 10, after the last presbytery completes its voting.
Despite the decision, each regional body can decide who it should ordain. Some presbyteries are expected to continue to reject gay and lesbian candidates.
The smaller Presbyterian Church in America, a separate denomination with fewer than 500,000 members, bars ordination for women and openly gay clergy candidates.
The United Methodist Church, the nation's largest mainline denomination with just under 8 million members, still mandates celibacy for unmarried clergy.
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