Leaders of New Zealand’s Presbyterian Church today voted to bar gays and people having sex outside of marriage from having leadership roles within the church.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand ‘s top decision-making body reaffirmed its 2004 rule that those involved in sexual relations outside of marriage cannot become ministers or elders.

After vigorous debate, the motion that ‘the church may not accept for training, license, ordain or induct anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman’ was carried by 230 votes to 124 (65 percent in favour).

The rule does not apply to any church member licensed, ordained or inducted as a minister prior to 2004.

The rule is not a disciplinary standard and cannot be used to remove a person already holding office.

2006 national census figures reveal 11% of New Zealand’s 4 million population identity as Presbyterian making the church the third-largest in New Zealand.

“We recognise the pain that this decision will cause some in our church.” said Reverend Pamela Tankersley, moderator of the General Assembly.

New Zealand national radio reported how some delegates left the assembly distressed and in tears after the outcome was announced.

Rev Tankersley said the issue had been addressed by the church over many years and “we can be satisfied that this decision was reached after thorough and prayerful discussion.”

Lesbian minister Margaret Mayman said the church had lost the opportunity to express the love of Christ to all members of its community.

“We’re obviously bitterly disappointed … very sad for our church, that it has responded in fear to a change in the patterning (of relationships) across the world,” reports The International Herald Tribute.

She warned that the rule may be broken by more progressive parishes who “will flout the law and choose their leaders for their commitment to the gospel rather than for their sexual orientation.