In a major development, the Methodist Church of Great Britain has overwhelmingly voted to allow the solemnising of same-sex marriages.
On Wednesday, the Methodist Conference voted – 254 in favour and 46 against – to amend its definition of marriage and to let Methodist ministers marry same-sex couples.
It now defines marriage as “a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of two people who freely enter it.” The church will allow its members the freedom to understand this in two ways: “that marriage can only be between a man and a woman” and “that marriage can be between any two people.”
Local churches that choose to do so will also be allowed to register their buildings for the solemnisation of same-sex marriages.
“It is vital that local churches understand that they are under no obligation to register. They are entitled to decide against doing so if they wish,” said the Methodist Conference on its website.
Delegates at the conference being held this week in Birmingham received a report which showed that 29 out of the church’s 30 synods confirmed support for the resolutions.
Following the vote, the President of the Methodist Conference, Revd Sonia Hicks said: “The debate today and our wider conversation has been conducted with grace and mutual respect. As we move forward together after this historic day for our Church, we must remember to continue to hold each other in prayer, and to support each other respecting our differences.”
The Revd Sam McBratney, chair of the Dignity and Worth campaign, told the BBC that it was a “momentous step on the road to justice” and followed many years of “painful conversations”.
He added: “We are so grateful to our fellow Methodists for taking this courageous step to recognise and affirm the value and worth of LGBTQ+ relationships.
The Methodist Church is the fourth-largest Christian denomination in Britain. A small minority of ministers and members have indicated that they are planning to leave the church over the decision.
Last year, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa issued an ambiguous statement that appeared to allow all its members, including clergy, to enter into same-sex civil unions. It stopped short, however, of allowing its ministers to marry same-sex couples or recognising same-sex marriages.