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Christian denomination becomes 'largest U.K. denomination' to allow gay marriage
Two diamond wedding bands for a double-bride wedding on the cover of the bible - photo by Billy Hallowell
The U.K.-based United Reformed Church voted over the weekend to allow affiliated churches to perform and host same-sex weddings, though churches that oppose such nuptials won't be compelled to do so.

The denomination, which has about 60,000 members, saw its governing General Assembly vote overwhelmingly Saturday to support the measure, with the final vote coming in at a stunning 240 to 21.

In a statement published on the United Reformed Church website, the denomination said it is "now the largest U.K. denomination to freely permit the celebration and registration of marriages of same-sex couple in its churches."

Churches in England and Wales that wish to host same-sex marriages will now be able to register to do so, with the same option soon being made available in Scotland as well.

This was not the first time that the denomination explored the controversial issue of same-sex nuptials, with the proposal coming up at a 2014 meeting and again in 2015. And while the rules have officially changed, the debate is far from over.

"It has long been clear that the denomination cannot express a single view on the issue of same-sex marriage and, at the 2015 Assembly it was ruled that the decision on whether an individual United Reformed Church congregation can host marriages of same-sex couples lies wholly with each local church," the statement reads. "This is the policy that was confirmed today as the Churchs decision."

The Rev. John Proctor, general secretary of the denomination, said after the vote that he knows that "some will rejoice" and "others will be uncomfortable" with the adoption of the resolution. Proctor also noted that, though churches are free to offer same-sex nuptials, those that do not wish to do so won't be forced.

"This has been a sensitive issue for many in our churches," he said. "It has been important to take our time over the decision process and to listen as carefully as we can to one another along the way."

According to the BBC, the denomination's first gay weddings could begin in the fall, with smaller denominations such as the Quakers, Unitarians and others already presiding over same-sex nuptials.

The gay marriage debate has threatened to divide Christian denominations in the U.K. and abroad. Across the pond in the U.S., the majority of Christian churches continue to take a traditional view on marriage, though some denominations in recent years have moved to embrace gay nuptials.

The Episcopal Church officially voted to allow gay marriage in 2015, with Presbyterian Church (USA) voting the same year to change the definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two people, traditionally a man and a woman."

It's a decision that led the Anglican Communion, which opposes gay marriage and is the umbrella group under which the U.S. Episcopal church falls, to suspend the U.S. denomination from key decision-making power

Additionally, the United Church of Christ has expressed support for same-sex couples since 2005, and the United Methodist Church decided in May that it will assemble a body within the denomination to discuss its views on sexuality.

Currently, the denomination's governing Book of Discipline confines marriage as being between one man and one woman an idea that some within the Methodist ranks have tried to challenge of late. It is unclear how that analysis will conclude.

The Pew Research Center explored where various U.S. religious groups stand on gay marriage in an analysis published last December, noting that, outside of the Christian umbrella, the Conservative Jewish Movement and the Reform Jewish Movement support same-sex nuptials.

Meanwhile, Islam and the Orthodox Jewish Movement do not. Read the complete analysis here.
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