DETROIT — At their gathering in Detroit, the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States voted to allow their clergy to perform same-sex marriages.

Members of Presbyterian Church U.S.A., an influential mainline Protestant group, voted at Cobo Center for the first time to allow ministers to perform them.

The Presbyterians are now one of the biggest Christian groups in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriages.

According to Religion News Service, the General Assembly of the 1.8 million-member PCUSA voted to allow pastors to perform gay marriages wherever they are legal by a vote of 76% to 24%.

Presbyterians are still expected to vote on resolutions that could change the definition of marriage from between one man and one woman. At the group’s last biennial convention in Pittsburgh in 2012, a similar proposal was narrowly defeated, 338-308.

EARLIER COVERAGE: Presbyterians set vote on same-sex marriage at convention in Detroit

Given that Presbyterians are historically an influential denomination, the vote could persuade other Christian groups to follow, say experts.

Over the last two years, the cultural landscape has changed, with a growing number of states — 19 at last count — legalizing same-sex marriage.

“There’s a forward momentum,” said Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a Presbyterian group that supports LGBTQ rights.

Conservative Presbyterians, though, were concerned that approving same-sex marriage could further accelerate the decline of the Presbyterian Church, which has seen a 37% decrease in membership since 1992, a drop of more than 1 million, from 2.78 million to 1.76 million last year.

And some at the convention expressed concern it could affect the perception of Presbyterian missionaries in more conservative parts of the world where the church works, such as in the Middle East. There are 315 Presbyterian churches in Egypt alone.

But supporters say justice and history are on their side.

Nathan Sobers, a ruling elder with a Presbyterian church in Seattle, is married to a man he has been with for 27 years.

“The gospel is about fairness,” said Sobers. Moreover, “Jesus never said a word about loving same-sex couples. … His message was about love, about celebrating God’s love for everybody, not just for those who are like me, but for everybody.

“We can’t show that love to the world if we can’t show that love to ourselves in our church,” Sobers said.

The vote comes during a week when a number of religious groups filed legal briefs in a federal court in Ohio in support of the right of same-sex couples to marry, in a case involving an Oakland County, Mich., lesbian couple.

Two briefs were filed in support Monday in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that represented dozens of faith-based organizations and clergy. One of them was filed by the Jewish group Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Japanese-American and other groups who back the right to gay marriage.

The other brief was led by Michigan’s four Episcopal bishops on behalf of liberal Mormon, Lutheran, Methodist, Unitarian, and Jewish groups.


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