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Identity & Community

Pittsburgh Presbytery Approves Same-Sex Marriages In The Church

The Pittsburgh Presbytery on Thursday narrowly voted to ratify the church’s national constitution to allow pastors to conduct and churches to host same-sex marriages.

The measure proposed last fall by the church’s General Assembly received enough approval from the 171 presbyteries throughout the country to ratify the constitution in March, but not all had voted before the May 15 deadline. Clergy and lay representatives voted 122-110 in favor with three abstaining.

The Pittsburgh Presbytery is the sixth-largest presbytery in the U.S. with more than 30,000 members in Allegheny County.

The Rev. Sheldon Sorge, general minister of the presbytery, said the church is bound together by overarching convictions including the life and purpose of Jesus Christ, but through the vote, has agreed that people of good conscious can have a different conclusion about whether scripture permits same sex marriages.

“There are some people who vote for freedom who never the less themselves believe that this should not happen. So I think the question about what Presbyterians believe about this is a different question from whether Presbyterians think there should be freedom on this,” he said.

Thursday’s vote, Sorge said, was less about what would happen nationally, but more about the convictions of the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

“I’m not sure the people in the room felt like they were doing something that was just symbolic, they felt like they were voting their conscience and that this mattered a great deal to them," he said. "So even though it had no impact on the national outcome, never the less, I think our vote was taken very seriously.”

The meeting of the presbytery included votes on other proposals from the General Assembly which all passed without discussion. When the time came for the marriage vote, those sitting on opposite sides of the aisle and on opposite sides of the vote embraced before discussion.

“I think it was highly emotional, although it was quiet. It was not loud. There were no raised voices at all. There were people telling stories that mattered to them. There were people appealing to the scripture, which matters to us all,” Sorge said.

In May 2011 the Pittsburgh Presbytery denied a proposal from the General Assembly that would ordain individuals in same-sex relationships. Since then, the restrictive language on ordination was lifted.

Sorge said it wouldn’t be appropriate to interpret the vote as saying a majority of Presbyterians believe same-sex marriages should be celebrated. Instead, he says the vote gives the church more freedom.

“It very clearly says it is not required that churches or pastors participate in same sex marriages," he said. "There’s a very strong freedom of conscience clause In there that says there is full freedom to do this or not to do this.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.