The Presbyterian Church today voted to ban anyone in a sexual relationship outside marriage from its leadership roles.
Its General Assembly voted 65 per cent to 35 per cent (230 votes to 124) to confirm the exclusion, which includes both gay minsters and heterosexual couples who are not married.
The decision was first taken two years ago, but was confirmed today. The ruling will not apply to anyone licensed, ordained or inducted prior to 2004.
The vote was expected to be close so the scale of the victory was surprising. The debate on both sides was emotional but polite.
One delegate, from the Bay of Plenty, said: "We follow the scriptures not Shortland Street, we follow Christ not culture."
Moderator the Right Reverend Pamela Tankersley said: "We recognise the pain that this decision will cause some in our church." She said there were strong feelings on either side.
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".
She added: "Our church has a tradition of robust and open debate, with everyone having input at local and national levels."
She asked everybody to remain in silent in prayer after the vote and then called for a minute's silence and held a prayer to ask for God to help the church from this point.
A Gay minister from Wellington asked to have his dissent recorded. But the moderator said he would have to go outside and record it in writing.
It is unclear whether the vote will cause a split in the church as happened in 2003 when the opposite decision was taken allowing non-married leaders.
Additional reporting: NEWSTALK ZB