United Methodist Church will allow LGBTQ clergy, after 40-year ban

Two people hugging
Church members protested LGBTQ clergy and gay marriage restrictions in 2019 [Getty Images]

The United Methodist Church voted Wednesday to allow LGBTQ clergy to serve in the church, reversing a 40-year ban.

The church had forbidden "self-avowed homosexuals" from being ordained or appointed as clergy members.

But during a national conference this week, delegates voted 692-51 to overturn the ban without debate.

People at the conference in North Carolina sang hymns in celebration after the vote, the church said.

Attendees also eased restrictions on gay marriage, passing a measure to prevent clergy and churches from being penalized for performing or declining to perform same-sex weddings.

"With the approvals and acceptance of the things today...we're beginning to see the unwinding, unravelling, dismantling of the heterosexism, the homophobia, the hurt and the harm of the United Methodist Church," Rev David Meredith said to United Methodist News.

Conservative members and congregations have left the denomination in recent years over the issues of LGBTQ clergy and gay marriage, changing the makeup of the church and paving the way for the policy changes to receive overwhelming support.

Five years ago, church members gathered for another national meeting, or "General Conference", and strengthened restrictions on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.

But conservative parts of the church felt those strengthened policies weren't being enforced and thousands of members and whole congregations left over "reasons of conscience".

From 2019 to 2023, more than 7,600 congregations in the US "disaffiliated" from the United Methodist Church, according to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, a research centre at the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C.

The church says it has approximately 10m members worldwide, with about half in the US.

It holds its General Conference every four years to review policies, budgets, and more. The pandemic, though, threw off that schedule,