United Reformed Church has voted in favour of allowing its local churches to register for and conduct same-sex marriages.
The decision was taken earlier today at the URC's General Assembly in Southport
The Assembly voted in favour of the proposal by a large majority, 240 votes to 21. It means URC churches wishing to register to hold same-sex marriages will be able to start the process immediately.
The vote marks a decisive move for the URC, which considered the issue inconclusively in 2014 and at a special Assembly in June last year, which concluded that the denomination could not express a single view on the question and that the decision had to rest with the local church. Today's vote confirmed that decision.
URC general secretary John Proctor said: "Today the URC has made an important decision – at which some will rejoice and with which others will be uncomfortable. Those of our churches who now wish to offer full marriage services to same-sex couples are free to do just that – and those churches who do not wish to are not compelled to. All are part of this denomination. This has been a sensitive issue for many in our churches. 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."
The URC's decision comes against a backdrop of other churches grappling with the issue. The Baptist Union of Great Britain has said it cannot prevent its churches registering if they wish and that Baptist ministers should be free to conduct same-sex marriages, though they are barred from entering into same-sex marriages or civil partnerships themselves. The Methodist Church on Tuesday agreed to "revisit" its definition of marriage and has formed a task group to bring a report to the Church. The Church of England is meeting this week in York amid threats by conservatives to boycott "shared conversations" aimed at reconciling its warring factions on the issue.