Presbyterians divided on same-sex marriage

Survey shows members, ruling elders oppose same-sex marriage, while teaching elders in favor

May 17, 2012

Presbyterians are divided on whether same-sex marriage should be allowed. According to results from the February 2012 Presbyterian Panel survey more members and ruling elders are opposed to same-sex marriage than in favor, while more teaching elders are in favor rather than opposed.  

Around one-half of members (51 percent) and ruling elders (48 percent) oppose same-sex marriage, while more than one in three are in favor (34 percent; 38 percent); the rest are not sure.

Among teaching elders, half of pastors (49 percent) and six in ten specialized ministers (61 percent) support same-sex marriage, while 41 percent and 28 percent, respectively, are opposed. 

There has been a significant increase in Presbyterian support for same-sex marriage since 2005, when only 13 percent of members, 22 percent of ruling elders, 35 percent of pastors, and 51 percent of specialized ministers were in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed. 

These changes parallel those occurring more broadly in American society. Support for same-sex marriage among the U.S. population has increased from 37 percent to 50 percent over the same period, according to the Gallup Poll.

“Many Presbyterians seem to be ‘evolving’ along with President Obama,” said Jack Marcum, coordinator of Research Services for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Last week, the President indicated that he now supports same-sex marriage, while previously he had only endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples.

On a related issue, that of allowing teaching elders to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, Presbyterians are also divided. About one-third of members (32 percent) and ruling elders (36 percent), 44 percent of pastors, and 58 percent of teaching elders favor allowing teaching elders to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies in locations where same-sex marriage is legal, according to another recent Presbyterian Panel survey.Most other respondents are opposed to giving such permission to teaching elders (49 percent, 50 percent, 44 percent, and 32 percent, respectively), though at least one in ten in every group are not sure (19 percent; 14 percent; 11 percent; 10 percent).

“Opinions on allowing ministers to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies largely mirror those on same-sex marriage itself,” said Perry Chang, Presbyterian Panel administrator. “While pastors are fairly evenly divided, other teaching elders show more support than opposition, while the opposite is true among people in the pews.”

Meeting in Minneapolis two years ago, the PC(USA) General Assembly issued a divided report on same-sex marriage, and the issue is likely to resurface at the Assembly this July in Pittsburgh.

Every three years the PC(USA) Research Services office assembles representative samples of Presbyterian church members, ruling elders, and teaching elders to respond to questions on different topics quarterly. Known as the Presbyterian Panel, these randomly chosen respondents form a vital means for church leaders to learn about the beliefs and experiences of rank-and-file Presbyterians.

For more information about Panel surveys and other Research Services studies and services, visit the Research Services website or contact Research Services at (800) 728-7228, ext. 5071, or by email.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comprises more than 2 million members in more than 10,000 congregations, answering Christ’s call to mission and ministry throughout the United States and the world.

  1. Satan is alive and well with certain members of my Presbyterian Church. God is very clear regarding this matter - reference Lev. 20:13

    by Dick Morrissett

    July 19, 2014

  2. It saddens me that the PCUSA approved gay marriage. I received a pamphlet on the pro-gay marriage stance and the biggest argument there was that we do not know what God is thinking. That is a fallacy. God has stated in the Holy Bible very clearly that he is against homosexuality. It shouldn't of been approved by the Presbyterian Church. Now with this new measure, I can guarantee you that gay marriage will be the root cause of those in attendance. I will be praying for and writing to the Conservative Churches in the PCUSA to leave and reorganize. How can we call ourselves faithful if we are going against the will of God. God has laid it out very clearly. The approval of gay marriage will have diminishing results on the numbers in attendance.

    by V. Bly

    June 21, 2014

  3. Rev 18:4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.

    by Roger

    June 20, 2014

  4. Somewhere in this debate, the issue of choice has been lost or ignored. Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not a genetic characteristic. If you want to engage in homosexual behavior fine, but don't ask the government or your fellow citizens to approve it. If a church or private organization (like the Boy Scouts) does not allow homosexuals to join, so what? Start your own group.

    by Paul Johnson

    November 7, 2013

  5. It drives me crazy when Christians claim that the Bible is "very clear" on homosexuality. IT IS NOT. We can forget Leviticus, I think everyone will agree, as so much is condemned in Leviticus that any pronouncement is no theologically sound. There is NOTHING in the New Testament proscribing two people of the same sex who love each other from doing so. There are some "throw in" words attached to immoral behavior (felt to be about male prostitution), but nothing about not loving someone of the same sex. AND ZERO scripture attributable to Jesus Christ. ZERO. Stand back, however, and take an even broader view. Is it possible that the Gospel of Jesus, one of love and tolerance would banish those born homosexual from a lifetime of ever being able to enjoy the fullness of love (and sex) if it was only available to them through someone of the same sex? Those on this site that would "use" the Bible to discriminate and hate should do themselves the favor of at least being theologically honest.

    by Richard

    October 28, 2013

  6. I am not sure what Presbyterians do not understand. The Bible is very clear on homosexuality and makes numerous references to the fact that it is wrong and anti-God. The teachings within the Bible form the foundation of our faith. If anyone choses to violate those teachings, then they are destroying the very basis for the Presbyterian Church. Maybe that is what some want to do? Same sex marriages and homosexual ministers violate the word of God - period. No exceptions. Any other discussions should be viewed as an attempt to destroy the church which I have been a member for 73 years and an elder for 30 years. There should be no further discussion by any member of the true Presbyterian faithful of any homosexual relationships or homosexual ministers. Why are biblical values being compromised? Richard Morrissett.

    by Richard Morrissett

    May 21, 2013

  7. Since the ordination standards have been redefined to remove the necessity of "remaining faithful in marriage" why don't we just redefine marriage to remove the need for monogamy and exclusivity? Many people in marriage report boredom, and loosening these standards would allow for more excitement. PC USA appears to support a full repeal of the Seventh Commandment. The Catechisms are not even taught anymore at this church.

    by David Carter

    April 7, 2013

  8. "WHY do you believe it is OKAY to legislate morality, ESPECIALLY within the church? GOD'S Word is GOD'S Word! LOVE the sinner, Hate the sin. But condone marriage?!?! God would have to apologize to Sodom if He is going to go along with MAN'S decision to void His Word! " I am NOT changing morality, Incase you did not know in Canada, and the USA, and other countries, we treat each other with respect, and that includes those that are gay. The church BTW recognizes, and has done so since the early 1980's. I am not telling the church what to do; our church- The Presbyterian Church has and has mandated equal treatment for all; regardless of sexual preference. - The formal communication is that ALL members will receive the same pastoral care- regardless. That has been in place since the early 1980's. In terms of marriage, I will leave that to the elders to work out. What I am saying is that my relationship is just as loving as yours. maybe your not familiar with the current divorce rate? What matters is creating a loving family, one built on respect, and forgiveness. The current standard today is each church treats its members- ALL members with the same care, and pastoral support. I am not telling anyone what to do. Incase your not aware, in this country; that relgious right has been upheld in court- the supreme court on benefits, and taxes, and other related. I have a legal right to be with my partner in death, and prior. I can legally share everything; including taxes, and other legal rights- My relationship means just the same to me as it does it does to you. We hurt the same, we care for each other the same, and we can love each other the same. My relationship is just as meaniful as yours. I know our elders are balancing both reglious rights, and human rights, and as far as i am concerned they have done a great job so far with this sensitive issue. I get the same care you do; while I cannot be legally married in my church; when I am ready to commit till death do you part; something I truly believe in, I will contact my church directly. If they cannot; there are other options.

    by Matt

    August 24, 2012

  9. The official definition of marriage in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a “civil contract between a man and a woman.” At the church’s biennial General Assembly last month, however, there was an effort to change the definition to a “civil contract between two people.” That proposal was narrowly defeated, 338 to 308. So there are many people on both sides of this issue, but for now, the PC(USA) subscribes to a traditional definition of marriage.

    by Jack Marcum

    August 7, 2012

  10. I would like to learn more about how the Presbyterian ChurchUSA stands in regard to same sex relationships/Marriage

    by Joyce Carlson

    August 6, 2012

  11. WHY do you believe it is OKAY to legislate morality, ESPECIALLY within the church? GOD'S Word is GOD'S Word! LOVE the sinner, Hate the sin. But condone marriage?!?! God would have to apologize to Sodom if He is going to go along with MAN'S decision to void His Word! Seriously, people, and children of the Most High God! Search the scriptures and SHOW us one example of God or Jesus accepting homosexuality as GOOD! And, please, no taking something out of context and editing it for your own purposes. I'm standing with GOD!

    by Melanie

    August 5, 2012

  12. I understand and support the value of my church. I was raised as I said to forgive and forget, to treat others with respect, and to treat all others as I would like to be treated.- That is what my mother instilled in me, through the Presbyterian church. I accept this issue is extremely difficult not only for the church elders, but for the entire church in general. I know what happened to me that; when the Rev prayed at my hospital bed. My mother and father were devastated at the meningitis and the damage it did.- I lost my last year of college- I was just starting my career.- Everything changed in one second.- I was given another chance. I was angry as hell at GOD for making we work so hard- Here I am today, with a career of a lifetime, a wonderful house.- Is it any different If I was a straight man? I know in my heart god made a miracle that day; - I know; miracles happen, and they did. I am forever grateful; for being allowed to show my gratitude; and to give back. I volunteer through my company- I show young men and women; business basics through Junior Achievement. Most of my family is deceased; and I lost over 189 co-workers durning 9/11.- Does that make me different? When I go to church I go becasuse I am trying to do the right thing; and have the morales that my mother showed me.- I am not perfect, I sin, but i know what I am doing is right- And connecting me; to incest, and beastilty, is just pure disgusting. God created me, he gave me a second chance; to be with my family; and to give back. what I feel is what you feel; I am not different, my pain is the same, when I loose a loved one, a partner- it feels the same.- I dont know his plan for me, -but he gave me a second chance that day;- and for that I am forever grateful. I feel at peace knowing my co workers in heaven- They did not make that day- but i know they are protected. and my family that is no longer here- I will see them one day- but God says not yet- you have to show more people about love; honestly and integrity. -

    by matt

    July 30, 2012

  13. "If gay marriage is ok, why not make polygamy, incest, or pedophilia, OK? And all of aforementioned in the name of 'LOVE' will justify them all? Do the "ends" justify the "means" at any cost? Are gays really being honest with themselves and others in "coming out of the closet"? Why the need for gay "pride" in the first place decades ago? Perhaps someone can explain why they want to shame others for their hate or homophobia when they themselves needed to advertise and promote their own "pride" Let me comment for you. First of all are you educated? Let me remind you that my relationships are just as rewarding as yours. I was raised in a house that respected differences, and not biased on your skewed; perceptions.- To even say; or suggest that incest, and beastilty is the same is extremely uneducated. at the very least.- I am shocked people still believe its okay to say such hurtful; demeaning; and beyond disgusting comments.- You may not know this, but in 2005 I have meningitis, and my priest from my church came to visit me, he travelled over 3 hours in a storm- When there was no hope left, we prayed, and within 48 hours a miracle happened.- I am here to tell the story- So let me say this- do you think because I am gay I deserved to die? That when I watched my friends wife pass away ; remember she was a lesibian, her partner of 30 years; that pain different then yours? That watching someone die of HIV, - let me guess- They deserve that right? If they were straight that would not happen? - Are you for real? The reason we have PRIDE; is we have allot to be proud of. My relationship means just as much as yours does. How dare you suggest that I am into incest because I am gay. You have allot of learning to do; I suggest you start reading.

    by Matt

    July 30, 2012

  14. If gay marriage is ok, why not make polygamy, incest, or pedophilia, OK? And all of aforementioned in the name of 'LOVE' will justify them all? Do the "ends" justify the "means" at any cost? Are gays really being honest with themselves and others in "coming out of the closet"? Why the need for gay "pride" in the first place decades ago? Perhaps someone can explain why they want to shame others for their hate or homophobia when they themselves needed to advertise and promote their own "pride" well before anyone knew about gay pride? ONE LAST POINT/QUESTION. Doesn't the medical community recommend that you, "Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom."? Yet, now there are some in the medical community that now say it's OK to "Sleep with the waste that gets flushed down in the toilet?" and that it's possible to live a perfectly normal life.

    by Ahc

    July 1, 2012

  15. Take heart my friends on both sides of this issue. You could all be United Methodists. We've been debating the status of gays and lesbians for 40 years and by the looks of things at our recent General Conference we will be debating it for 40 more. I support removal of all our rules against gays and lesbians and it is a difficult struggle.

    by jeff Conn

    June 2, 2012

  16. My most recent comments were submitted Friday, after 5pm, and appeared this morning. Based on that, and my previous experience, I conclude that comments are posted only during working hours. While I assume that is so someone can screen inappropriate comments, that doesn't meet the test of censorship, and so, Mary-Ellen, and others offended, I apologize.

    by Bob

    May 21, 2012

  17. Bob: When are the Biblical offenses of adultery, or even just divorce, among those your congregation has ardently believed "repentance is a factor in calling someone into a leadership role"? Those things which have been a real threat to marriage, long before the contemporary issues of marriage equality even arose, are almost always simply not discussed in congregations, much less when calling someone into a leadership role. We could, of course, add so many other Biblical sins that have been left aside to our minds today. I smell selective sin, selective repentance, and selective outrage over this one contemporary issue. I have no wish to theologically lobotomize anyone, but rather to emphasize the real theological difference of opinion that exists, which tells us no person owns God, and our government must treat all equally under the civil laws. THAT was the statement of the President, and of many pastors now supporting the President. (As for comment posting delays, I experienced them as well; raised in the church, however, I will avoid leaping to accusations of censorship or other nefarious intents).

    by Joel Lawson

    May 21, 2012

  18. Continued from below.....I am fully supportive of the white papers issued by the originators of the Fellowship group. I have been a Presbyterian for 53 years. I have been called to serve joyfully in several capacities: Deacon, Elder, Clerk, Sunday School Teacher, Youth & Scout leader, stewardship campaign chair and head of the New Church Development Task Force which birthed one of our more successful churches. In every position, especially the latter, I could see God’s hand in what was being done. Like Rachel, I was fortunate that the two local Presbyterian churches in my life, including the new church development, were focused on preaching the Gospel, equipping people, and mission. Unfortunately, while that was going on at the local level, I was also watching the hijacking of the church at the national level. What was a strong, growing, vibrant southern church was put on the path to extinction through the union with a top-down bureaucracy, and through politics which has focused on the perseverent and the noisy, driving away over two million members (and no, Mary Ellen, they weren’t gay), and counting. Instead of being genuinely concerned and focused on the personal salvation and Christian journeys of our members and those around us, we have become a political action committee for everything liberal – caterpillar, hp, a mouthpiece in Cuba for Castro, rushing to judge as racist the tragic Martin death, fighting about sex for the last 30 years, and it just goes on and on. And the result? We now have thousands of members in hundreds of churches, including nine of the fifteen largest, leaving or considering leaving the denomination. The Mexican church won’t do mission with us. The Brazil church now wants nothing to do with ROW. The Africans, on whom we have been imposing moral standards for centuries, are looking at us as though we have lost our minds. Our finances are in shambles, and becoming worse as people leave (have you checked the increase in the per capita tax or the pension contributions lately?) Thornwell, one of the best things this denomination has ever done, is standing there with empty buildings because they don’t have the funding to do their mission. Our presbytery, as are the majority, is doing nothing in the way of new church development. The statistics on the number of diminished and small churches we now have with no ministers is stunning. And as we are going down the tubes and becoming more irrelevant every day as a denomination, we come up with all kind of spin to try and make it look pretty. So, Mary Ellen – if you will excuse me, I will be the one that is offended. I am offended by what has been done to a denomination that once was so important in my life, in the lives of millions of others, and was truly relevant in the nation and the world. I hope that the Fellowship folks can regain that momentum. I especially hope, and am working for, our local church to be a part of that effort.

    by Bob

    May 18, 2012

  19. Mary Ellen- you are certainly free to feel offended by my censorship comment. However the fact is, that for whatever reason , my original comment, which was made immediately when this story came out, did not show up for hours. In the meantime several other comments appeared. So, I made my comment about censorship, and here we are. My first comment magically appeared. Joel, I wish marriage equality, as you describe it, were the only issue behind my sarcasm. My daughter was a professional ballerina with several companies, including Boston Ballet. I am well acquainted with the gay world. The majority of gays I have met are fine people. I am not a Biblical literalist. You don’t have to be to come to the conclusion that the gay lifestyle is contrary to God’s plan, and is, dare I say it, a sin. Certainly the church should be accepting of gays, but as with any sinner, repentance is a factor in calling someone into a leadership role. It follows that our ministers should not be performing gay marriages. However, this is just one issue. ..........continued in next comment (I'm too long winded)

    by Bob

    May 18, 2012

  20. Well Rachel there is nothing richer than a theocrat using that old trope that all sins are sins, when they only get into a well-funded Constitution-chipping snit over one. I'm glad you report to have openly gay congregants in your church. I would encourage you to get to know them in true fellowship, and to run your theories by them, i.e. that wanting civil protections for our families amounts to a selfish "getting more when they already have more - to the detriment of the 'least of these'." You could hardly make such a callous and un-Christian suggestion if you truly viewed them as equals, in your church or in our nation.

    by Joel Lawson

    May 18, 2012

  21. Joel - it is nice that you describe my comments as disjointed with false stereotypes and then call my church "exclusionists or even Biblical literalists". Just so you know there are homosexuals worshipping in our church. It is just that they, like all of the rest of us sinners, are seriously striving to do God's will in this world - not throw out the parts of the Bible they don't like.

    by rachel

    May 18, 2012

  22. Rachel provides a disjointed comment that plays on false stereotypes as ammunition in preventing all families from being treated fairly in times of need. Hardly an example of Christian rhetoric. As an American and Presbyterian who happens to be gay, Rachel will forgive me for having better insights on our community. I do not understand the connection between civil rights and income, however there is no good evaluation of LGBT incomes. In one view, the higher number of "DINKS" -- double-income, no kids -- can obviously increase disposable income (and time for dedication to career). Yet, every single survey is based upon people's willingness to identify as LGBT in the first place. With rhetoric like Rachel's being tossed about, is it any surprise that arguably the majority of LGBT Americans have not self-identified? Especially a plurality of those living in sharp economic disadvantage? Rachel if you have found a comfortable home of like-minded exclusionists or even Biblical literalists, I am fine with that. The study discussed above indicates there's simply a theological difference of opinion. That's a fact. It's also a fact that we are a republic. It is "We the People" not "those people." And households like mine, be they fortunate or facing homelessness (and I have known many of both), owe you no supplication in continuing an advance towards simple marriage equality under the civil laws, towards having the same protections in times of need for our spouses and children.

    by Joel Lawson

    May 18, 2012

  23. I belong to the largest church in our presbytery. We are growing and have taken in 50 new members in the last few months. Our focus is on preaching the Gospel and mission. Too bad the Presbyterian Headquarters has focused on the homosexual issue for the last 30 years, instead of the Great Commission. Statistically american homosexuals are better educated and of a higher socio-economic class than heterosexuals. It is too bad that their focus is on getting more when they already have more - to the detriment of the "least of these".

    by rachel

    May 18, 2012

  24. Bob, first of all, it is very offensive of you to state that censorship is alive and well in the PCUSA. My second point addresses some of the losses in the PCUSA. Not all can be attributed to dissatisfaction with the direction of the church, but many gay members and their families left the church because they were not welcome. I have a vivid memory of my son, who is gay, spending his Christmas Eve delivering fruit and sandwiches to the homeless in DC, who were huddling over street grates to keep warm. This beloved son lives out the gospel every day of his life even though he no longer belongs to a church.

    by Mary Ellen Lawson

    May 18, 2012

  25. Bob: You may continue your rather sarcastic-toned attempts to align support of marriage equality with "Obama and the ultra liberal establishment," but I will take this opportunity to come to the defense of the views of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Cheney.

    by Joel Lawson

    May 18, 2012

  26. Comments welcomed, as long as they are not critical of the direction of the church. Censorship is alive and well in the PCUSA

    by Bob

    May 17, 2012

  27. Those results are based on responses from a random sample of members, ruling elders, and teaching elders. More details about their demographic characteristics are available here: http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/research/pdfs/panel_profile_survey_2011_summary_color.pdf We'll be doing additional analysis in the future to look at differences like those you suggest (by age).

    by Deborah Bruce, Research Services

    May 17, 2012

  28. I pray that our world, country, churches, and my beloved Presbyterian USA church, will evolve more quickly and these survey numbers will more impressively lean toward full acceptance of approximately 10% of God's children. Rather than studying ancient texts or debating with medical people, I feel the best way to learn and grow is to allow yourself to become friends with openly gay people. I have many friends who are in committed relationships with their same-sex partners. Their relationships are just as "holy" as any other married couple that I love. As a deeply religious Presbyterian, and as a Ruling Elder, I would be so proud to have them join our church, to be united in marriage here, and to feel the power of their creating God, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the Love of Christ, rather than feel any type of shunning. I know we're on our way. I love our church. I love my friends. I love our country. Love always wins, right?

    by Cathy Levy

    May 17, 2012

  29. My question would be this, what are the age demographics of the members, ruling elders, teaching elders, and specialized ministers who were surveyed? I'm 27, a ruling elder, and in support of same-sex marriage, but am one of the youngest ruling elders in my Presbytery. If these results mirror the country at-large, I suspect a higher analysis of the results would show an age-split in opinion as well.

    by Brandon

    May 17, 2012

  30. "more than 2 million members"????? how about, "only 2 million members, down from over 4 million, because the majority of our members and ruling elders don't care to 'evolve with Obama' and the ultra liberal establishment, as our leadership apparently does". I think that would be a more accurate description of PCUSA's rush to irrelevancy.

    by Bob

    May 17, 2012

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