By David Masci, Pew Research Center
The Presbyterian Church (USA) joined other religious groups Tuesday in a vote that formally sanctions same-sex marriage. The 1.7 million-member church voted to amend its constitution to allow gay marriage ceremonies, a move widely anticipated after a step the church took last summer to allow its clergy to marry same-sex couples.
The debate within the church has already led some congregations to break away and join other, more conservative Presbyterian denominations, and the vote could prompt even more defections. At the same time, the church’s decision could influence other centrist and liberal mainline Protestant churches that have grappled with the issue but have not formally agreed to allow same-sex unions.
In the past two decades, several other religious groups have moved to allow same-sex couples to marry within their traditions. This includes the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.
At the same time, many of the largest religious institutions have remained firmly against allowing same-sex marriage, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Jewish movement and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical Protestant denominations. (Pew Research Center has published a fact sheet on religious groups’ positions on same-sex marriage.)
Among the four largest mainline Protestant churches, the same-sex marriage debate has not been so simple. The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (not to be confused with the Presbyterian Church of America, which opposes same-sex marriage) have wrestled with the issue for years, often as part of a larger debate on the role of gays and lesbians in the church.