Which Denomination Just Allowed Same-Sex Marriage?

Marriage equality scored a major victory today, not a legal one, but rather a religious one. The Presbyterian Church has voted to change their definition of marriage as being simply "between two people" rather than "between a man and a woman." Though the policy now has to be approved by a majority of Presbyterian regional bodies, called Presbyteries, before it becomes official, this is still a major step forward.

The Presbyterian Church Assembly has also voted to allow pastors living in states where gay marriage is legal to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies as of right now. This policy is effective immediately and does not need approval by the Presbyteries, making the Presbyterian Church already one of the more gay-friendly major denominations in the country. However, if the move to change the Church's definition of marriage is approved by a majority of the Church's 172 Presbyteries, then gay Presbyterian couples will be able to get married in the Church no matter where in the country they happen to live.

The Presbyterian Church is one of America's largest Christian denominations with over 1.7 million members. Though there's no telling how many of those members might be LGBT–determining such things is notoriously difficult–but it's clear if this new definition passes, a whole lot of people will get the right to be married in the eyes of their church, which is incredibly awesome.

The Presbyterian Church is no stranger to gay-friendly policies; just last year they officially voted to allow the ordination of openly gay clergy men and women. However, they are also far from the only denomination to embrace LGBT members and support their right to marry. The Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ both allows same-sex marriages, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lets individual pastors make their own decisions about same-sex marriage. The famously welcoming Unitarian Universalist Church has been allowing same-sex marriages within the church since 1996, four years before Vermont became the first state to allow civil unions.

It's clear that same-sex marriages are becoming increasingly accepted by Christian denominations, not only by more liberal congregations, but also by mainstream denominations as a whole, and this is good for any number of reasons. For one thing, it severely undercuts the argument many marriage equality opponents make that gay marriage is against Christianity and allowing it would be detrimental to churches.

But even more importantly, the increasing acceptance of LGBT people within Christian denominations means that those members are equal parts of their faith community. For people living in states where gay marriage is legal, it allows them to be married in a way that's probably even more meaningful for them than a piece of paper; for people who don't live in a marriage equality state, it allows them to be married in an official, if not legal, way and have their union recognized. And for LGBT Christians everywhere it means that they can participate fully in the church community, without having any religious ceremonies denied to them that are offered to their straight counterparts.

Considering that the about 75 percent of all Americans are Christians, denying rights to LGBT members leaves a lot of people shut out. Hopefully we'll soon see the day when all Christian denominations embrace LGBT people as fully part of the community. And in the meantime, we'll be watching the Presbyterian Church's vote, waiting for official word.