The 2 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) for the first time on Sunday began welcoming non-celibate gay clergy.

Church delegates meeting in Minneapolis for their biennial convention last year agreed to allow the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy, but narrowly rejected altering the definition of marriage to include gay and lesbian couples. The change needed to be ratified by a majority of the church's 173 U.S. presbyteries before coming into force.

The deciding vote came in May, when the liberal Minneapolis-St. Paul presbytery overwhelmingly approved the measure, and the change took effect on Sunday.

“This Sunday, Presbyterians from Seattle to Nashville are praising God and celebrating. Our church has moved another step closer to fully embracing the love and inclusion taught by Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Janet Edwards of More Light Presbyterians in a statement. “We know God is at work when almost all presbyteries voted more strongly for the welcome and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members than ever before, in the history of the Presbyterian Church.”

Previously, the church required that officers either be in a monogamous heterosexual marriage or remain celibate. The new language removes any mention of sexuality.

“They're making this change amid a larger cultural change. General public opinion on gay rights is trending pretty dramatically in the liberal direction,” Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University told Reuters in May.

Other mainline Protestant denominations in the United States have approved the ordination of gay clergy in recent years, including the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ.

The ordination of two gay bishops prompted conservatives to split from the Episcopal Church and form their own church.