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Religious Tolerance logo

About the Presbyterian Church (USA),
marriage equality and other LGBT topics.

Part 3: 2014:
The General Assembly votes to accept
marriage equality and give clergy the
freedom to marry same-sex couples.

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The acronym "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender
persons & transsexuals. "LGB" refers to lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

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wedding rings2014-JUN-19: 221st General Assembly votes to recognize marriage equality, and give their clergy freedom to marry same-sex couples:

The General Assembly -- the top legislative body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) -- met at the Cobo Center in Detroit, MI during the week of JUN-15. The delegates voted to make two major changes concerning the LGBT community:

  • The first change is to widen its definition of marriage to include loving, committed same-sex couples. In the past, the denomination's Constitution (a.k.a. Book of Order) had always restricted marriages to a voluntary union of "one man and one woman."

    The PCUSA's Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee recommended to the General Assembly that the Constitution be reworded to indicate that:

"... marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman."

The vote was 429 to 175 in favor of the amendment. Many observers were surprised by the magnitude of the delegates' support, because a vote on a similar amendment at the previous General Assembly in 2012 was narrowly defeated by a vote of 338 to 308 after four hours of debate. The 71% vote in favor of redefining marriage greatly exceeds support for same-sex marriage (SSM) across the nation. Recent public opinion polls have shown that about 55% of voters typically favor of SSM; the highest value that we have seen is 59%.

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During the year preceeding this General Assembly, there have been some major development concerning SSM (same-sex marriage) in the court system:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Windsor v. United States that overturned Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court required the federal government to make its marriage-related programs, benefits, and protections available to some same-sex married couples.

  • The number of lawsuits in federal and state courts to overturn state bans against SSMs reached 70.

  • A dozen state and federal courts have issued rulings about SSM. All have legalized such marriages. Most have stayed their decisions pending appeals to higher courts.

  • Most of the political jurisdictions in North America (states and the District of Columbia in the U.S. and provinces in Canada) have now legalized SSM.

  • Most of the population of North America live in a state, district, or province where same-sex couples can marry.

Perhaps the accumulated effect of:

  • The above developments in the courts have caused many members of the PCUSA to accept marriages by same-sex couples as equivalent to those of opposite-sex couples.

  • Perhaps many members have simply become exhausted at over three decades of trying to hold back change in the denomination.

  • Perhaps many members realize that the Church is losing members from the late teen and young adult contingent because of their restrictive beliefs concerning human sexuality.

  • Perhaps with a significant majority of American adults now favoring making SSM available, they have changed their beliefs about SSM.

  • Most likely, it is some combination of the above trends and others not listed here that is producing rapid change.

However, voting in the General Assembly concerning SSM shifted from a narrow rejection in 2012 to a massive, 3 to 1 approval in 2014.

This change will only become effective if and when it is ratified by at least 87 of the denomination's 172 regional presbyteries. Each will hold separate discussions and ratification votes during early 2015. Passage is expected.

  • The PCUSA's Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee also recommended to the General Assembly that the church grant its clergy the freedom to refuse to perform marriages or to agree to perform any legal:

    "... marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform."

As of 2014-JUN, persons authorized in their state to marry couples can legally solemnize same-sex marriages in 19 states and the District of Columbia. About 45% of Americans live in these political jurisdictions. Federal and state courts in about a dozen additional states have issued rulings approv of same-sex marriages; however their decisions have been stayed pending appeals. Meanwhile, a total of about 70 lawsuits in federal and state courts are actively attempting to have bars against same-sex marriages declared unconstitutional in every state where they currently exist.

The vote was 371 to 238 in favor of this change (61%).

This change is within the authority of the General Assembly. It came into effect when this year's Assembly concluded.

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Various reactions to the two changes:

  • Alex McNeill is the executive director of More Light Presbyterians. It is a LGBT-positive group working towards marriage equality within the denomination. He said:

    "The church affirmed all its faithful members today. This vote is an answer to many prayers for the Church to recognize love between committed same-sex couples. We will keep praying that the majority of our 172 presbyteries will confirm that all loving couples can turn to their churches when they are ready to be married." 2

  • The Presbyterian Lay Committee is a conservative group whose members are strongly motivated against same-sex marriage within the denomination. They described both votes as an "abomination." This is a popular term used by many religious conservatives to refer to same-sex marriage. The word is found in many English translations of the Bible in verses Exodus 18:22 and Exodus 20:13. In the original Hebrew, the terms means "ritually impure," and applies only to Jewish males. The Committee issued a statement saying:

    "The General Assembly has committed an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God's clear commands and the denominational ordination vows of each concurring commissioner." 1

    They asked their membership to openly complain and to withhold their financial donations to the church in order to force the PCUSA to repeal their two changes.

  • Rev. Krystin Granberg, Moderator of the Presbytery of New York City, mentioned that she receives requests from friends and parishioners to preside at their weddings. She said:

"... all the time.... They want to be married in the church they love and they want me to do it. I want pastoral relief." 1

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Presbyterians set vote on same-sex marriage at convention in Detroit," Detroit Free Press, 2014-JUN-19, at: http://www.freep.com/
  2. Jeff Karoub & Rachel Zoll, "Presbyterian Assembly: Gay Marriage Is Christian," ABC News, 2014-JUN-19. at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  3. Aleksander Chan, "U.S. Presbyterian Church Votes to Allow Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies," Gawker, 2014-JAN-19, at: http://gawker.com/
  4. Office of the General Assembly, "PC(USA) leaders issue pastoral letter to the church on Assembly’s marriage actions," Presbyterian Church (USA), 2014-JUN-19, at: https://www.pcusa.org/

Copyright © 2014 & 2015by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2014-JUN-20
Last update: 2015-JAN-15
Author: B.A. Robinson
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