Capping a week of protest and sharp debate, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination, voted 268-251 to ban "same sex union ceremonies." The group's 173 presbyteries must now ratify a constitutional amendment that establishes the ban before it takes effect. On the convention floor, the one-hour debate preceding the ballot was civil but impassioned: "If we bless what God condemns, what kind of Christians are we?" youth delegate Emily Martin, 18, of Alabama, said. Supporters were equally adamant: "This church doesn't respect gay and lesbian people because it does not respect their relationships," said Donna Riley, a church member from Princeton, N.J. "They're saying a minister can bless a lesbian's home, a minister can bless a lesbian's poodle, but that minister cannot bless my relationship."The vote, which took place late Friday evening June 30, followed the arrest of 81 protesters from Soulforce, the interdenominational homosexual rights group headed by Mel White. The arrested included William P. Thompson, a former moderator and stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. in 1983 to form the PCUSA. Thompson said he believed sexual orientation was "received and not chosen" by people. At the same time as the Soulforce gathering, 10 people associated with the controversial pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., held a counter-demonstration, with signs proclaiming "Thank God for AIDS" and similar slogans. Jane Spahr, an ordained Presbyterian and lesbian from San Rafael, Calif., said the vote would "make the church more irrelevant to our lives. To say we can't do holy ...

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