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Presbyterians narrowly reject plan to redefine church marriage as union between two people

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- A proposal by marriage-equality supporters within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to redefine church marriage as a union between two people, instead of a man and a woman, was narrowly rejected late Friday.

A lively debate lasting four hours preceded the 338-308 vote to reject the proposal, made at the church's General Assembly now underway in Pittsburgh.

"While it is disappointing that the Church missed this historic opportunity to move toward full inclusion, the fact that so many Presbyterians from around the country called for the Church to recognize love between committed same-gender couples was awe-inspiring to see," said Michael J. Adee, executive director, More Light Presbyterians.

“We have more work to do to show those who oppose full inclusion how truly wonderful the gifts that committed, married same-sex couples bring to our church. We’re inspired by the progress we’ve made together and are just as committed to continuing this work, together.”

The 220th General Assembly discussed two different ways to expand the denomination’s understanding of marriage to include committed same-sex couples. While neither option ultimately collected the majority of votes needed to begin the ratification process, this discussion marked another step towards making the Presbyterian Church (USA) a truly inclusive church, Adee said.

The Civil Union and Marriage Committee recommended overture 13-04 to amend W-4.9001, the Directory of Worship to change the characterization of marriage from a "man and a woman" to "two persons." The Directory of Worship is part of the Book of Order, the PCUSA's Constitution. This is the first time an overture like this has been debated by a Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly.

The second overture would have issued an authoritative interpretation that would permit ministers residing in states where marriage between same-sex couples is already legal to preside at same-sex wedding ceremonies. This overture would have clarified a confusing limbo that many Presbyterian ministers find themselves in as more and more states recognize same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Heidi Peterson, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo., and co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians, said she was disappointed but saw it as a sign of progress.

“As a Presbyterian minister, my job is to provide pastoral care to the real people I serve in my congregation and in my community," Peterson said. "Today, our church missed an opportunity to not only take a bold step towards love, but to also clarify confusion that ministers across the country are facing as more and more states expand their recognition of marriage to include same-sex couples. While we didn’t take this step forward today, I have faith that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will one day soon stand on the side of love.”

The 2 million-member Presbyterian Church, among the most liberal and progressive faiths in America, currently permits ministers to bless gay unions but bans them from calling them "marriages."

The issue of marriage equality remains a divisive issue among American churches as well as the public, but poll after poll show that the issue is trending toward support of marriages between gay and lesbian couples who wish to wed.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church is meeting in Indianapolis and will be considering a motion to allow a three-year trial period for a liturgy for same-same weddings.