RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) legislative assembly narrowly rejected a measure Friday to allow regional governing bodies to ordain gay clergy and lay officers.
Under the 259-255 vote, the current interpretation of church law forbidding the ordination of gay clergy will remain binding on the church, including on the regional bodies, known as presbyteries.
Immediately after the vote, about 300 Presbyterians who supported allowing the ordination of gay clergy gathered in a courtyard where many wept and embraced.
``Tonight is another `no' to us,'' the Rev. Jane Spahr, a lesbian minister from San Rafael, Calif., told the group. ``All we wanted to do is walk beside you and serve beside you.''
Conservative Presbyterians had warned that a vote for gay ordination at the denomination's national meeting could cause the largest split in the church since the Civil War, when slavery split the church into Northern and Southern factions.
Opponents of the proposal said a network of 1,300 congregations with 450,000 members was poised to break away. The network, called the Confessing Church Movement, holds as a central doctrine the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.
Also on Friday, Presbyterians overwhelmingly elected the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick as ``stated clerk'' _ the chief executive at the church's Louisville, Ky., headquarters.
Kirkpatrick garnered 349 votes, 66 percent of the total, to defeat three conservatives who considered him too lax on enforcement of the church's gay leadership ban. Kirkpatrick was backed by the assembly's nominating committee.