ROCHESTER, N.Y., June 20 (UPI) -- A New York Methodist conference voted to ask its national policy board to permit same-sex marriages as compatible with Christian teaching, the conference said.
The petition by the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church came as the state Senate debated a bill Monday that would legalize gay marriage in the state. The state Assembly passed the bill 80-63 June 15.
The Senate vote was one supporter short of passage, with some GOP senators expressing concern the measure could expose religious institutions and religiously affiliated agencies to lawsuits. State lawmakers were due to leave for summer recess after Monday.
State Sen. Stephen Saland, a Republican who has not announced a decision on how he will vote on the bill, said the bill would not come up for a vote Monday.
If the Senate approves the bill, New York would be the sixth -- and largest -- state to legalize same-sex marriage, with the bill becoming law 30 days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs it.
Demonstrators for and against same-sex marriage converged on the state Capitol in Albany Monday and state troopers were called in at one point to maintain order, the Press & Sun-Bulletin of Binghamton, N.Y., reported.
Opponents chanted, "God says no," and supporters responded with "Yes, yes, yes," the newspaper said.
The state-by-state battle over gay marriage has become one of the most contentious social issues ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, the District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian tribe in southern Oregon allow same-sex marriage, while several other states permit civil unions, which are similar but are not recognized by the federal government and may not be recognized by other states.
The first legal same-sex U.S. marriages took place in Massachusetts in 2004.
At the 185,000-member Methodist conference, the non-binding vote among 937 churches from 49 of the state's 62 counties was "highly divided," spokesman Maidstone Mulenga told the Press & Sun-Bulletin, without providing a vote tally.
The only organization that officially speaks for the church is the General Conference, which sets policy and meets every four years, with the next meeting held next May.
Delegates at that meeting, in Tampa, Fla., will be asked to consider changing church policy to approve same-sex marriages -- a recommendation also proposed by the church's Baltimore-Washington conference.
The church currently defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and doesn't permit same-sex marriages or unions.
But the church also says "basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons ... regardless of sexual orientation" and supports other contractual relationships, such as power of attorney and guardianship, regardless of sexual orientation as a "simple justice issue."