After a decades-long debate, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted by an overwhelming majority to recognize same-sex marriage in their denominational constitution, according to ABC News. On Thursday, the highest court of the church also added the inclusive language of "two people" instead of "a man and a woman."
According to the recent denominational letter, pastors are now allowed to perform "any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform." The change to the church's administrative manual (Book of Order) will define marriage in the broadest terms possible: "marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman."
Although the media focus is on homosexual unions, it is unclear if other types of marriage, such as transsexual, are included in the broad phrase "a unique commitment between two people."
The amendment will still need approval by a majority of the 172 regional courts (Presbyteries) over the course of the next year. Meanwhile, pastors are permitted to preside over homosexual weddings in states that allow such unions.
This decision is one in a long-line of controversial social issues decided upon by the Presbyterian body. From supporting abortion and tight gun control laws to rejecting the death penalty, they have not shied from debated topics.
The debate about homosexuality in the Presbyterian church began in 1978 with a call to reject homophobia. By 1987 the General Assembly called for an elimination of homosexual laws. The debate culminated in over 400 churches leaving the 10,000 church denomination after the 2011 decision to allow ordination of homosexuals.
The debate is not fully over. A Presbyterian organization, The Presbyterian Lay Committee, is taking a stand against the current decision, calling it an "abomination." The committee is calling for Presbyteries to reject and resist the General Assembly's decision.
Various smaller and conservative denominations, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church of America, still uphold traditional marriage. These churches left the mainline Presbyterian churches during the 1930s and 70s respectively over issues of the nature of Christianity.