The United Church of Christ, the first mainline Protestant denomination to ordain an openly homosexual minister 35 years ago, became the first to endorse same-sex marriage within its pews Monday.
Roughly 80 percent of the liberal denominations 884-member General Synod voted to approve the resolution, which calls on member churches to consider wedding policies that do not discriminate against couples based on gender.
The resolution also asks churches to consider supporting same-sex marriage laws outside the church by working against legislation banning gay marriage.
According to a UCC press release, the denominations president, Rev. John H. Thomas, said his church acted courageously to declare freedom.
"On this July Fourth the General Synod of the United Church of Christ has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of same gender couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate and bless those marriages," said Thomas.
However, not all were in favor of the controversial move.
A small group of traditionalists had proposed an alternative resolution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which did not pass.
The Rev. Brett Becker, who penned the resolution, said earlier this year that he knew his resolution does not have the slightest chance of passing, but hoped it would be used to bring reform to the ultra-liberal church.
Im hoping God might use [the measure] to change some peoples minds, said Becker, pastor at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Cibolo.
Now, Becker one of only a handful of remaining evangelical pastors in the UCC says the passage of Monday's resolution may force him to leave.
"I would like to see us stay in the denomination and network for positive change," Becker said to the Associated Press. "However, many of my members have expressed very clearly that this decision would cause great consternation and that, if this happened, they would want to see us leave."
Becker also does not believe Mondays vote was representative of the wishes of most laity.
"If we had put it to a vote of the people in the pews, it would have failed overwhelmingly," he said. "This is truly Independence Day for the UCC we have declared ourselves independent from the teachings of Jesus and the clear teachings of Scripture."
The United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 and has remained traditionally strong in the New England area. The denomination claims to have 1.3 million members in 5,700 congregations.
Like many other mainline denominations, UCC churches are autonomous, meaning the General Synod, which meets once every 2 years - cannot create policy for its congregations. However, each General Synod is recognized as the representative voice of the churches.
In the early 1970s, the UCC became the first mainline church to ordain an openly gay minister. Ten years later, the church declared itself to be open and affirming of gays and lesbians.
The 2005 General Synod is being held from July 1-5 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Mondays resolution reads:
The marriage equality resolution (1) affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage; (2)affirms equal access to the basic rights, institutional protections and quality of life conferred by the recognition of marriage, (3) calls for an end to rhetoric that fuels hostility, misunderstanding, fear and hatred expressed toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, (4) asks officers of the church to communicate the resolution to local, state and national legislators, urging them to support equal marriage rights, (5) calls upon all settings of the church to engage in serious, respectful and prayerful discussion of the covenantal relationship of marriage and equal marriage rights, (6) calls upon congregations, after prayerful, biblical, theological, and historical study, to consider adopting Wedding Policies that do not discriminate against couples based on gender, and (7) urges congregations and individuals of the UCC to prayerfully consider and support local, state and national legislation to grant equal marriage rights to couples regardless of gender, and to work again legislation, including constitutional amendments, which denies rights to couples based on gender.