The Presbyterian Church of the USA voted on Friday to reject a proposed change that would have allowed the church to recognize same-sex marriages. The vote was close however.
The Presbyterian General Assembly, meeting in Pittsburgh, voted 338-308 against changing how marriage was defined in the church constitution from a “civil contract between a woman and a man” to a “covenant between two people.”
Opponents of the new definition of marriage said it would violate the word of God, divide the Presbyterian Church and alienate the denomination from its many partner churches overseas. If the assembly had approved the redefinition, it would have required ratification from a majority of the church’s 173 presbyteries, or regional districts, a process that usually stretches for months.
“I must affirm definition of marriage as between one man and one woman,” said Jodi Craiglow, of the Miami Valley Presbytery in Ohio. She directly addressed gay Presbyterians. “As much as my heart breaks for your pain and frustration, I must simply hold to the standard of the God I love,” she said.
Michael Adee, executive director of the gay advocacy group More Light Presbyterians, called the outcome “a heartbreaking moment, a disappointing moment.” Several delegates and observers wept after the vote. “It’s a moment to grieve and it’s also a moment when we pick up and keep doing the work,” Adee said. “The conversation isn’t over.”
This comes a year after the Church voted to strike down a barrier against ordaining gay clergy in same-sex partnerships.
This year’s vote wasn’t a complete loss however. The Church also voted against adopting language that would have shored up the so-called “traditional” definition of marriage.
Given how close the vote was this time around, and the upward trend in support for marriage equality and gay rights, Friday’s vote has led some to speculate that a similar measure brought up for a vote next year would potentially win through. While the statistical model used to track the positive swing in general levels of support for marriage equality perhaps does not apply in this specific case because of the variables that would have to be accounted for, it does at least seem that the Presbyterian church has moved significantly, and some might even say dramatically, toward a more accepting stance.
On October 8, 2011, Scott Anderson became the first openly gay ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. You can read more about him here.