Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ+ Issues: Presbyterian Church (USA)

Produced by the HRC Foundation

With an estimated 1.3 million members, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the past decade has voted to allow the ordination of LGBTQIA+ people, to permit the performing of same-sex marriages in church buildings and by Presbyterian ministers, and to commit to advocacy for equal rights in church and society for all sexual orientations and gender identities. Because the policies are permissive, rather than mandatory, there continues to be some exclusion in particular congregations and regions of the country.


With its roots in the 16th century teachings of John Calvin, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) boasts 1.4 million members who participate in more than 10,000 congregations across the country. The largest Presbyterian organization in the country, the denomination was formed in 1983 when the southern-based Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) joined the northern-based United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) to form a single entity. The Presbyterian Church (USA) remains distinct from the Presbyterian Church in America, which tends toward less inclusive policies.

The Presbyterian name derives from the Greek word for “elders” – lay leaders who govern the church and are chosen by its congregants. According to the denomination’s web site, elders work closely with clergy to, “exercise leadership, government, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a particular church as well as the church at large.” Elders serve at every level of leadership from “sessions,” which govern a single church, to “presbyteries,” consisting of regional church communities, to the General Assembly, representing the entire denomination.



In 2018, the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to affirm its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of transgender people, people who identify as gender non-binary, and people of all gender identities within the full life of the church and the world. It went further to lament "the ways that the policies and actions of the PC(USA) have caused gifted, faithful, LGBTQIA+ Christians to leave the Presbyterian church so that they could find a more welcoming place to serve, as they have been gifted and called by the Spirit.”

Experiences may differ greatly across individual communities, but many congregations are entirely welcoming and inclusive.


In 2014, the General Assembly passed a measure that permits ministers and sessions (local church government), “to use their own discernment to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies where allowed by law.” In addition, the General Assembly recommended an amendment to update the description of marriage in the denomination’s Book of Order so that it would no longer exclude same-sex couples. Effective June 2015, the amendment to the Book of Order updates the description of marriage as “a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” The latter was added during debate of the amendment on the floor of the General Assembly out of respect to the denomination’s more conservative members.


At the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis in June 2018, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted unanimously on resolution clarifying the church's position that "religious freedom is not a license for discrimination against any of God’s people and cannot justify the denial of secular employment or benefits, healthcare, public or commercial services or goods, or parental rights to persons based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or gender expression."


In 2010 the General Assembly approved an amendment that allows ordination of openly LGBTQ+ ministers at the discretion of individual presbyteries and sessions, essentially allowing each congregation the decision to ordain or not. The amendment was ratified in 2011, following approving votes from a majority of presbyteries. In 1996, Erin Swenson became the first transgender minister to serve in the Presbyterian Church (USA) when members voted to continue her ministry following her transition from male to female. The denomination’s history of ordaining women as elders reaches back to 1883.


  • Covenant Network of Presbyterians, is a broad-based, national group of clergy and lay leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole.
  • More Light Presbyterians, a national organization working for the full participation of LGBTQ+ people in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in society.


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
100 Witherspoon St.
Louisville, KY 40202

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