The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has rejected a bid to redefine marriage as ‘a covenant between two people,’ voting instead to conduct a two-year study of the divisive issue.

Presbyterians debated for more than three hours Friday whether to change their definition of marriage. In the end, they preserved the traditional meaning, upheld a ban on officiating gay weddings, and sustained related tensions that have roiled their denomination for years.

With a 52-percent majority, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shot down a bid at its Pittsburgh meeting to redefine marriage in the church constitution as “a covenant between two people.” As a result, marriage is still defined there as “a civil contract between a woman and a man.”

The vote means Presbyterian clergy who officiate at gay weddings, even in states and other jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriages, violate protocol and risk censure. Later Friday night, the Assembly voted to convene a two-year, churchwide study on the theology of marriage.

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