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DETROIT, MICHIGAN  (June 19, 2014)—The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approved a recommendation from its Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee that allows for pastoral discretion in performing any such marriage, where legal by state law.

The action passed by a vote of 371 to 238.

The Assembly also approved a recommendation to change language in the Book of Order to indicate that “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

That action passed by a vote of 429 to 175.

“Obviously members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) bring differing viewpoints to this issue,” said Heath K. Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly. “However, much respect has been shown between people with different viewpoints and there is an acceptance that even in a family where we disagree, we can love each other. The church has spoken and we will follow their lead.”

The Assembly also took action intended to foster reconciliation and unity within the church on the overall issue. The action will provide support and resources to presbyteries and congregations.

Regarding the issue of pastoral discretion, the General Assembly issued an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of the Book of Order. An AI is an interpretation of the PC(USA) Constitution that carries the authority of the General Assembly and is binding on the councils of the church.

The Assembly said, “When a couple requests the involvement of the church in solemnizing their marriage as permitted by the laws of the civil jurisdiction in which the marriage is to take place, teaching elders have the pastoral responsibility to assess the capabilities, intentions and readiness of the couple to be married (W-4.9002), and the freedom of conscience in the interpretation of scripture (G-2.0105) to participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform.

“Exercising such discretion and freedom of conscience under the prayerful guidance of Scripture, teaching elders may conduct a marriage service for any such couple in the place where the community gathers for worship so long as it is approved by the session; or in such other place as may be suitable for a service of Christian workshop.”

This AI does not require that congregations, which are guided by their own governing bodies, nor pastors, perform same-gender marriages. Congregations and their governing bodies, still have the right to decide what happens in their facilities.

The AI takes effect immediately upon adjournment of the assembly on June 21st. The Book of Order change regarding marriage must go to the PC(USA)’s 172 presbyteries for their ratification during the next year. A majority of the presbyteries must approve the amendment in order for it to take effect.