US Presbyterians have voted to allow gay people in relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been debating the issue for more than 30 years. A majority of the church’s 173 regions, or presbyteries, must approve the change for it to take effect.

Yesterday, the church’s regional presbytery of Twin Cities gave the ‘yes’ side the majority.

Just two years ago, the majority of presbyteries voted against ordaining gay people.

Reverend Gradye Parsons, the church’s Stated Clerk and its highest elected official, told the New York Times that everyone was “surprised” at the vote.

He said: ”We’ve been having this conversation for 33 years, and some people are ready to get to the other side of this decision.

”Some people are going to celebrate this day, because they’ve worked for it for a long time, and some people will mourn this day because they think it’s a totally different understanding of Scripture than they have.

”I hope that going forward we can stay together and be faithful witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has about 2 million members. It joins the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church in allowing the ordination of gay people.

The similarly-named Presbyterian Church in America is much smaller and does not permit the ordination of women or gays.