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Presbyterian Church vote rejects ban on gay unions

A majority of American presbyteries have rejected a proposed ban on same-sex unions in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Tallies on Wednesday showed that 88 presbyteries said no to the ban, a majority of the nation's 173 presbyteries. Only 64, including the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, voted to forbid same-sex unions on church grounds and prevent ministers from performing them.

Twenty-one presbyteries had not yet voted Wednesday. But the majority already have spoken, said Jerry Van Marter, director of the Presbyterian News Service in Louisville, Ky.

Presbyterian doctrine already forbids same-sex marriage. But some ministers had performed what they called "holy unions," in which gay couples said vows and professed their love before a minister, family and friends.

Presbyterians who believe God disapproves of homosexuality wanted to "close that loophole," Van Marter said.

Called Amendment O, the proposed ban was generated partly by friction between two Pinellas County churches.

Harold Brockus, pastor of Good Samaritan Church in Pinellas Park, has performed same-sex unions. That didn't sit well with William Martin, pastor of Northeast Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg. Martin filed a complaint with the regional presbytery.

Their dispute eventually made its way to the denomination's national General Assembly in the form of a resolution that asked for a ban on same-sex unions. Two other presbyteries sent similar resolutions. Last summer, the assembly decided a majority vote of presbyteries should settle the issue.

The ban failed because the amendment was vaguely written, Van Marter said. It never mentioned "same-sex unions," tiptoeing around the phrase.

"Church property shall not be used for, and church officers shall not take part in, conducting any ceremony or event that pronounces blessing or gives approval of the church or invokes the blessing of God upon any relationship that is inconsistent with God's intention," it said in part.

Some feared the amendment would affect other church ceremonies, such as the baptism of a gay couple's child.

Brockus rejoiced Wednesday. "Holy unions are still permissible in the Presbyterian Church," he said.

The Rev. Betts Huntley, a retired Presbyterian pastor who lives in Clearwater and was a pastor in Safety Harbor, was disappointed.

"I think it will end up causing some confusion," he said.