The United Methodist Church, the third largest Christian group in the United States, defrocked a pastor in December who violated the denomination’s ban on presiding over same-sex nuptials. But months later, new regulations governing benefits for gay staff members could leave some activists rejoicing.

According to the new-found rules, if a spouse works at one of the United Methodist Church’s 13 general agencies — boards that carry out the denomination’s work — his or her loved one can now receive benefits so long as the state he or she lives in allows same-sex marriage, reported Religion News Service.

The controversial new policy was enacted at last week’s United Methodist Church Judicial Council meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas — a move that comes after the definition of “spouse” was apparently changed by the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration late last year.

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“On October 21, 2013, the Board of Directors of the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) adopted a change in its general agency benefits policy,” reads an explanation of the ruling. “The change stated that employees eligible to participate in the General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program (GAWBP) may now enroll same-gendered partners as ‘spouses’ under GAWBP, provided their relationship is a marriage, civil union, or comprehensive domestic partnership recognized under the civil law of some state.”

The Judicial Council affirmed this finding and noted that the church has a role in “creating conditions that promote the health of agency staff.”

By making its internal rules for staff coverage consistent with the bounds of state law, the United Methodist Church has made a definitive decision on the matter — one that will most certainly make more conservative members of the denomination uncomfortable.

The council also determined that candidates for clergy positions should not be denied job interviews because of their sexual orientation, though the denomination forbids clergy living in gay relationships.

This development comes just four months after the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was defrocked for violating church rules and officiating his son’s gay wedding.

(H/T: Religion News Service)

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