At least 21 out of 173 regional bodies in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have petitioned a June legislative assembly to repeal a church law that bars clergy and lay officeholders living in relationships outside heterosexual marriage.

The tally was reported by the San Francisco-based Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which has long advocated repealing the law. Wednesday was the deadline for such legislation.

The bills ignore a special task force’s plea against making changes this year to help keep the church unified in the face of divisions over the role of gays in the denomination.

The regional units (called “presbyteries”) that are calling for repeal of the ban are in 15 states and cover such major cities as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis and New York.

A typical bill, from the unit based in Kansas City, Mo., said the sexual law contradicts principles of love, freedom, equality, “inclusive welcome” and “the right to respond to God’s call.”

A change in church law requires balloting in all presbyteries, a process conservatives have won three times on the same issue.

Besides the proposed church law change, some presbyteries have petitioned to overturn past assemblies’ official interpretations of policy upholding traditional sexual morals; that step that needs only approval by the June assembly.

On another dispute, five presbyteries want the assembly to modify or end a 2004 plan to pull church investments from companies working in Israel, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported.

Presbyterian officials are currently negotiating with five such companies.

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