Leaders of the Presbyterian USA Church voted Thursday to allow non-celibate gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy.
If approved by its local churches, the move could make the church one of the most gay friendly denominations in the country.
Delegates to the church's general assembly in Minneapolis, Minn., voted to lift the ban on ordaining non-celibate gays and lesbians to the offices of pastor, elder or deacon, with 53 percent approving the more liberal policy.
But in a close vote Thursday, the delegates decided not to redefine marriage in their church constitution to include same-sex couples.
"There are still big steps ahead, but I'm feeling better about this than I ever have before," the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, the openly gay pastor of Janhus Presbyterian Church in New York City, said ahead of the clergy vote.
"Blurring or obscuring the clear teaching of God's Word in order to keep in step with secular laws and changing personal morals only confuses our witness and causes innumerable problems for the future," Presbyterians for Renewal, a group opposed to the changes, wrote on its website.
The church's 173 U.S. presbyteries must now approve its new policy on gay clergy.