Delegates of the Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting this week in Minneapolis will consider whether to bless the marriages of gay couples and whether to allow the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy.

Church committees have recommended the General Assembly approve both measures.

The assembly's committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues approved altering the definition of marriage in the church constitution (the Directory for Worship) from a covenant between “a woman and a man” to between “two people.”

Members voted 34 to 18 in favor of the new language.

Laura Marsh, an elder from East Iowa Presbytery, stood by her church's decision to forgo marrying anyone until gay couples can marry in her church, the First Presbyterian of Iowa City.

“Is everybody happy?,” she asked. “No. But there's been no mass exodus, and we didn't implode. But we're urgently asking you to act.”

Iowa is among the five states which have legalized gay marriage. A gay marriage law went into effect in the District of Columbia in March.

Opponents of altering the definition said it would “disintegrate” families.

“My fear is that if we open up Scripture to interpretation, we compromise purity, we become susceptible to deception and this body, my family, will disintegrate,” Young Adult Advisory Delegate Paige Eubanks of Mid-South Presbytery said.

Another church committee, the Church Orders and Ministry Committee, recommended the church begin ordaining non-celibate gay clergy.

The church currently requires that officers either be in a monogamous heterosexual marriage or remain celibate. The new language, which removes any mention of sexuality, was approved by the committee in a 36 to 16 vote.

The committee considered at least a dozen proposals relating to the ordination of gay clergy, including some that called for strengthening the current standard.

Opponents of non-celibate gay clergy say sexual activity should only be expressed within the covenant of a heterosexual marriage.

Supporters of the changes praised the committees for their work.

“There is a spirit of grace at this General Assembly,” Michael Adee, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, said. “The church knows that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender daughters and sons are not outside trying to get in. We are baptized and nurtured members of the church – and Presbyterian ministers should have the privilege of blessing our unions and supporting our families.”

Both measures require the approval of the full General Assembly before the convention's Saturday conclusion and ratification from regional presbyteries in the coming year.

In recent years, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American have approved the ordination of gay clergy. Conservatives split to form their own church after the Episcopal Church installed two gay bishops. Both churches are moving closer to blessing gay marriage. ELCA Lutheran churches can do so at their own discretion.

Presbyterian churches can bless the unions of gay couples so long as ceremonies are not structured as weddings.