NEW YORK (AP) -- After decades of debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Tuesday struck down a barrier to ordaining gays, ratifying a proposal that removes the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, in the latest mainline Protestant move toward accepting gay relationships.
The change was endorsed last year by the Presbyterian national assembly, but required approval by a majority of the denomination's 173 presbyteries, or regional church bodies.
Before Tuesday, the vote stood at 86-62 in favor of change. The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, based in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., cast the key 87th vote needed for a majority in support of ratification came during a meeting Tuesday night. So far, 62 presbyteries have voted against the measure.
Differences over the Bible and homosexuality have split Protestant groups nationally and worldwide for years. Within the Presbyterian Church, about 100 of the 11,000 congregations had already broken away ahead of the vote, but a group of large theologically conservative congregations, which calls itself Fellowship, has decided to remain in the denomination for now.
The measure approved Tuesday eliminates language in the church constitution requiring that clergy live "in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." The new provision instead requires ministers to "submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life." Each regional body will decide who it should ordain, and some districts are expected to continue to reject gay and lesbian candidates.
The new policy would take effect on July 10, after all presbyteries complete their voting.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), based in Louisville, Ky., is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country.