Marriage may be a civil ceremony by definition, but for most people the ceremony is associated with a church setting. Now the Presbyterian Church (USA) has decided that same-sex weddings belong in that setting. By a resounding 3 to 1 margin, the Church’s General Assembly has given its blessing to performing same-sex marriages in the denomination’s churches, making it the largest Christian denomination in the U.S. to embrace marriage equality. (The United Church of Christ beat them to it.)
The final decision will be made next year when the Church’s 172 regional presbyteries take a vote on it. However, the General Assembly approved marriages immediately in those states in which is it legal.
It’s a swift policy change for the Church, which only got around to approving sexually active gay clergy three years ago. When Rev. Jane Spahr married a handful of couples in California during the brief window when Prop 8 closed, she faced a Church court panel, which concluded she violated Church policy.
In the past few years, the more conservative Presbyterian congregations have abandoned the mother ship, in large part because the Church has been becoming more LGBT friendly. An anti-marriage group, the Presbyterian Lay Committee, called for a financial boycott of the Church, invoking a little brimstone in the process.
“God will not be mocked,” the group said, “and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.”
The Presbyterians are often out in front among mainline Protestant denominations, and the Church’s move might give some cover to other congregations to follow suit. Other congregations, including the Methodists and Episcopalians, are riven by disputes about LGBT issues. At this point, though, the most conservative parts of each congregation have already signaled that their heading for the door anyway. Approving same-sex church weddings would only stop the embarrassing dithering that’s come to characterize the Churches’ response.