The Presbyterian Church will change its constitution to recognize same-sex marriage, after a favorable vote by a majority of the church's regional governing bodies in the United States, the church announced Tuesday.
Under the revised constitution, the church will define marriage as involving "a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives."
The Presbyterian General Assembly, the top legislative body of the Presbyterian Church USA, voted last June to revise the constitutional language defining marriage, but the change could not go into effect without approval from a simple majority of the church's 171 regional presbyteries.
The Palisades Presbytery in Rochelle Park, N.J., voted Tuesday evening to accept the new marriage definition, tipping the scales past 50%, based on unofficial vote tallies, the church said.
The General Assembly already made sweeping changes last year, when it approved a separate measure that allowed ministers to preside over same-sex weddings in states where such unions are legal.
Pastors and congregations have been allowed to opt out of participating in same-sex weddings if they object. That won't change with Tuesday's vote, said Joyce Lieberman, director of constitutional interpretation for Presbyterian Church USA.
Still, the shift was described as monumental.
"It's a major change to a historic document of the church," Lieberman told The Times late Tuesday. "To put it in print in the church's constitution is a major change for us."
In an open letter, two top church leaders said the amendment "lifts up the sanctity of marriage and the commitment of loving couples within the church."
"We hope that such 'up/down' voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community," said Elder Heath K. Rada and the Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, moderator and vice moderator of the current General Assembly.
Activists who have fought for greater inclusiveness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the church rejoiced.
"Today, we can bring our whole selves to church," Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, an advocacy group that has called for the full participation of same-sex church members, said in a statement. "Presbyterians know that love of God and neighbor is, by definition, a call to love and serve people who are different. Faithfulness does not include discrimination in the name of God."
The Episcopal Church started allowing blessings of same-sex marriages in 2013. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows individual church ministers to make decisions on same-sex marriages.