While many churches are standing up against the growing trend of same-sex marriage support in the country, the Presbyterian Church is embracing it.
The change to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was voted on with over 40 percent of members advocating the change first endorsed in June by the denomination's General Assembly in Detroit. While the count is not yet final, the official vote is expected to be finalized this spring when the required 172 members of the church put in their votes.
While gays and lesbians have been welcomed in the Presbyterian church for decades, and have even been allowed to serve in leadership positions since 2011, this change in constitutional wording recognizes marriage as a "unique commitment between two people" rather than specifically between a "man and a woman" as it previously stated.
"The church affirmed all its faithful members today. This vote is an answer to many prayers for the Church to recognize love between committed same-sex couples," said Alex McNeill, executive director at More Light Presbyterians after the June 2014 ruling that got the vote started.
"We will keep praying that the majority of our 172 presbyteries will confirm that all loving couples can turn to their churches when they are ready to be married."
If the vote fully passes, as it's expected, it will mean that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the largest Christian denomination in the world to allow same-sex marriage.
But not all Presbyterians believe in this ruling. Paul Detterman, national director of the Fellowship Community of Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania, says that he is "very disappointed" in the church for going this direction. "I feel and continue to feel this is contrary to clear teaching of Scripture, but I also have a very clear sense of call to be speaking that conviction compassionately from within."
The Presbyterian Church in America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are three sects of the Presbyterian Church that still oppose same-sex unions in the United States, while the Presbyterian Churches in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Brazil have all declared homosexuality as a sin.
The membership numbers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have been dropping in recent years with more than 100,000 people leaving the church from 2012 to 2013, according to a report from the church itself.
"Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination," said the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. "But the numbers also illustrate fewer losses than the previous year. The membership declined by 89,296 in 2013, compared to 102,791 in 2012.
"We are meeting the challenges we have had and it's showing," he continued. "And, our decline in total congregations is holding fairly steady."
According to a study at Layman.org, "Only in 1972 and 1973 were the combined membership loss totals of the PCUSA's two predecessor denominations - the United Presbyterian Church in the United States, (UPCUSA) and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) - greater. In 1972 the losses of the two denominations totaled 103,150, and in 1973 the decline was 139,882."
While many experts believe that the embrace of homosexuality is the cause of the decline in membership, others believe that it's a reaction meant to bring more in as acceptance of homosexuality enjoys an all-time high in society.