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June 20, 2014 3:46 PM Another Denomination Embraces Marriage Equality

By Ed Kilgore

The ranks of Protestant religious denominations accepting marriage equality (along with ordination of LGBT clergy, and more obviously, acceptance of members without regard to sexual orientation) just got an important addition, with the General Assembly of the mainline Presbyterian Church in the United States voting to repeal its past ban on same-sex marriages. The official redefinition of those eligible to marry from “a man and a woman” to “two people” will have to be ratified by the church’s regions, but individual ministers are sanctioned to perform same-sex marriages immediately.

This development will likely accelerate the departure from PCUSA of churches already in rebellion against its 2010 decision to ordain non-celibate gay clergy (there’s a Presbyterian congregation just down the street from me that’s halfway out the door) but a sizable majority don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Other mainline denominations are in various states of flux on this subject, though the direction—with one big exception—is generally the same. Episcopalians now conduct “blessings” of same-sex unions, and ordain gay clergy and bishops. Their denominational first cousins, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is already devising a same-sex marriage rite. The United Church of Christ and the Unitarian-Universalist Association have been there for quite some time. My own traditionally decentralized Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) allows individual congregations (and in the case of ordination, the regions) to decide on all matters related to human sexuality (the Northern California/Nevada region in which I live has been ordaining non-celibate gay clergy for a good while), but the denomination did pass a resolution last year encouraging acceptance of LGBT folk in all aspects of church life.

The big mainline holdouts are the United Methodists, where a series of international assemblies have voted down any change in the traditional rules on clergy or marriage, along with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

But while it’s customary to view this issue as one of many that is dividing Protestant Christianity into “liberal” and “conservative” coalitions that cut across all the old doctrinal and denominational lines, you do have to wonder if the rapid trend in public opinion towards acceptance of various sexual orientations and of marriage equality—particularly among the young people who are the apple of every denomination’s eye—will overtake the cleavages. The Methodists may prove to be a test case going forward. And at some point even the “conservative” churches—Baptists, pentecostals, adventists, and all the earlier split-off Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist groups, along with the longer-toothed Missouri and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans—will have to bend.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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