United Church of Christ leaders and LGBT supporters are offering congratulatory remarks and praise to their fellow mainline Protestant brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church (USA) after the denomination's governing body gave final approval to marry all couples regardless of gender.
Members of the PCUSA, the largest Presbyterian church in America, voted on Tuesday, March 17, to expand its constitutional definition of marriage from being between "a man and a woman" to "two people, traditionally a man and a woman."
"I applaud the actions of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which has opened the door for same-gender couples to be married in the church," said the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy. "Their actions honor the God-given dignity and worth of their same-gender-loving members and are a witness for justice and equality to the wider community. I am joyful for the many celebrations of love and commitment that will now happen."
UCC national officer the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, also expressed support for his Presbyterian colleagues and friends once he heard that the amendment had a majority approval from the presbyteries (regional bodies) of the church.
"Many courageous Presbyterians, like Janie Spahr and so many others, have worked tirelessly and strategically for years to create a climate of openness and honesty in the PC(USA) on LGBT issues," Guess said. "This is a great moment for the PC (USA) but also other denominations and faith communities that will be inspired and convicted by this bold step toward greater equality."
"I give all my admiration and congratulations for my PC (USA) friends," Guess added. "I also can't help but show my pride that, a full decade ago, the UCC helped courageously pave the way as the first mainline denomination to support marriage equality."
The UCC became the first mainline denomination to recognize same-sex marriages in the United States with the passage of a 2005 General Synod resolution for full marriage equality. The PCUSA becomes the sixth religious body in the nation to sanction same-sex marriage, joining the UCC, the Quakers, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Churches and, in Judaism, the Reform and Conservative movements. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America leaves the decision to marry same-gender couples to individual ministers, while the Episcopal Church permits same-sex unions.
The PCUSA has 1.8 million members, but that number has been shrinking in recent years after the denomination moved to allow gays and lesbians to be ordained in 2011. The departures of conservatives from the church, and the growing cultural support for same-sex marriage is, according to the New York Times, what helped swing the marriage equality issue over the top after three decades of debate.
The PCUSA decision takes effect in June.