At its gathering in Detroit on Thursday, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to allow its clergy to marry gay and lesbian couples.

A stunning 76 percent of church delegates voted to allow clergy to marry gay couples in the 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, where it is legal, the AP reported.

Over the coming year, regional presbyteries will vote on the change. A majority is needed for the amendment to be passed.

At its 2012 convention in Pittsburgh, delegates narrowly (338-308) voted down a similar measure.

Presbyterians are poised to become the biggest Christian group in the United States to allow its congregations to support marriage equality.

Opponents warned that the change would create division between the church and other more conservative Presbyterian churches outside the United States. Backers, on the other hand, argued that the church should lead by example.

In 2010, delegates voted in favor of allowing non-celibate gay clergy, a policy change decades in the making.