ATLANTA - A committee of about 50 United Church of Christ representatives gave nearly unanimous approval Sunday to a resolution that moved the church one step closer to becoming the largest Christian denomination to endorse same-sex marriage.
After debate that began early Sunday morning and ended late in the afternoon, the resolution supported by the UCC's president, John H. Thomas, drew overwhelming support and was recommended for approval today by the General Synod.
The committee also voted against adopting a resolution declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman.
On the voice vote, only two or three said "no" to the same-sex marriage resolution. There were only a few dissenting votes when the committee did not declare marriage to be designed for one man and one woman, according to "the clear teachings of Jesus and the rest of Scripture" and UCC doctrine.
If the General Synod approves the same-sex resolution without making major changes, committee members acknowledged Sunday, individual members and even entire congregations might pull out of the church.
"There are churches and individuals who will be deeply, deeply wounded by this decision," said committee member Emily Jean Gilbert, of Allentown, Pa. "I ask you to treat these people with respect and honor their feelings."
The annual meeting ends Tuesday.
Sunday's debate and votes continued the church's tradition of support for gays and lesbians. In the early 1970s, the church became the first major Christian denomination to ordain an openly gay minister. The church declared itself to be "open and affirming" of gays and lesbians 20 years ago.
More than 40 years later, other churches continue to wrestle with the issue. Ms. Gilbert said her husband, a retired United Methodist Church minister, was moving his membership to the UCC because the Methodist Church recently revoked the ordination of a woman in Philadelphia who announced she is a lesbian.
Some argued the resolution contradicts biblical instructions.
"The issue is not who wins or who gets his way," said Bill Boylan, of Massachusetts, in his remarks in support of recognizing marriage only for one man and one woman.
"If we have in our hands the word of God, the only loving thing is to speak it," said Mr. Boylan, who said his resolution was "clearly intended to focus our attention on the Scriptures."
The Rev. Brett Becker, the pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Cibolo, Texas, said, "Throughout the Scriptures, marriage is always defined as being between one man and one woman."
Proponents for a third resolution for study and prayer on the issue supported a successful vote for the resolution to be incorporated as a section of the same-sex measure.