The Methodist Church has become the largest denomination in Britain to abandon the biblical definition of marriage and permit same-sex unions.
The Methodist Conference voted to redefine marriage, with 254 in favour and only 46 against. It also voted to allow cohabitation.
Speaking against the resolution on homosexual marriage, lay representative Sandra Hayward said the move was leading the church ‘away from Scripture’ and was contrary to ‘Scriptural holiness’.
Carolyn Lawrence, a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference, warned there was a ‘significant minority’ of Methodists who were ‘planning on leaving or resigning their membership’ as a result of the vote.
‘Today is a line in the sand for many people and seen as a significant departure from our doctrine,’ she said.
Freedom of conscience clauses mean Methodist ministers will not be forced to conduct same sex weddings if they oppose the move, and ministers will still be free to preach about biblical marriage.
But chairman of Methodist Evangelicals Together Revd Dr David Hull said he was ‘greatly saddened’ by the decision to ‘abandon the teaching of the Christian Church held throughout history and still held by the majority of Christians around the world today’.
The Methodist Church in Ireland says it will continue to uphold the biblical definition of marriage.
General secretary Rev Dr Heather Morris said, ‘The Methodist Church in Ireland is a separate and autonomous body which continues to affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman.’