Presbyterian Church
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has voted to allow same-sex marriage. Above, Rev. Paul Mowry, who is gay, leads a Sunday service at Sausalito Presbyterian Church in Sausalito, California June 23, 2013. Reuters/Noah Berge

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Tuesday to change its constitutional definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage. Instead of marriage being between “a man and a woman,” it will now read between “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” Although an official vote is still being tallied, a majority of the church's regional bodies appeared to approve same-sex marriage in the church, Presbyterian Church (USA) said in a statement on its website.

The final approval came after 86 of the church’s 171 regional bodies voted in favor of making the change. Forty-one bodies have voted against, and one was tied in its vote, the New York Times reported.

During a general assembly in June, about 71 percent of church leaders approved of including same-sex marriage in its definition. But full approval required a majority of presbyteries, which are the church’s regional bodies, to approve of the change. When a presbytery in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, voted Tuesday to make the change, it created that necessary majority by becoming the 86th body to approve same-sex marriage.

Advocates of gay marriage hailed the decision. “Finally, the church in its constitutional documents fully recognizes that the love of gays and lesbian couples is worth celebrating in the faith community,” the Rev. Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, said, the New York Times reported.

In recent years, church membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has dropped, in part because of its stance on gay marriage, the Huffington Post reported. In 2005, the church had nearly 11,000 member churches, but in 2013, it had little more than 10,000. The church has an estimated 1.8 million members.

Ministers of the Presbyterian Church have been permitted since June to officiate at the weddings of same-sex couples. The amendment won’t require ministers to marry same-sex couples, and will even allow them to refuse, if they so choose.

Clear opposition to the decision remains. Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community, which is a part of the church, voiced concern that “the church is capitulating to the culture and is misrepresenting the message of Scripture.”