ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Arden Mitchell and her wife tied the knot in 2012, the person who would marry them seemed obvious.

As luck would have it, Mitchell's father is a Methodist pastor.

"It’s always been a vision and dream of mine, growing up as a pastor’s kid, to think about the opportunity for your dad not only to walk you down the aisle, but then to also officiate the wedding ceremony," Mitchell said.

There was just one problem.

"Unfortunately, the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline prevents a pastor from performing a marriage ceremony for two women."

Mitchell's father couldn't officiate without the risk of facing punishment from the church.

It's that long-standing policy on same-sex marriage and gay clergy, in America's second-largest Protestant denomination, that's at the center of a high-stakes vote when the United Methodist Church's top legislative assembly convenes this Sunday.

Official policy dating back to 1972 is at the heart of the conflict. The Book of Discipline states that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

The Methodist church has continued to ban gay-friendly practices even as other mainline Protestant denominations have embraced them.

The church's upcoming General Conference in St. Louis will bring together 864 invited delegates to consider several plans for the church's future, while potentially causing a split.

Florida has 18 delegates — 9 lay and 9 clergy — representing 650 churches with 223,000 members in the Florida conference, according to the Rev. Alex Shanks, who is leading the state's delegation.

Of the proposals under consideration, a "Traditional Plan" would double down on the church's current rules and impose more stringent enforcement. A so-called "One Church Plan," viewed as the compromise option, would leave it to individual churches and pastors of regional conferences to establish their own policies. 

A "Simple Plan" would scrap any references to homosexuality in the church's rule book with the expectation all clergy and regional groups would support inclusion.

At Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Pete, Rev. Andy Oliver has been performing same-sex marriages for most of the three years he's been there, while regional leadership essentially turns a blind eye.

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Oliver says his church, which has been the target of vandals for its publicly progressive political stances, represents the future Methodist church.

"We have been breaking the rules," he said. "We have been ignoring those laws of our church and living into the fullness of what we believe the Bible calls us into which is about love and inclusion of all people."

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Kenneth Carter, bishop of the Florida Conference and president of the global Council of Bishops, is among the majority of bishops in support of the "One Church Plan" to leave it up to individual churches and pastors.

Carter says the hope is that such a plan would limit an exodus by allowing for opposing views on the LGBTQ issues.

"We're better together than we are separated and fragmented, but I do understand that the forces that would separate us are very powerful," Carter told the Associated Press.

But with congregations around the world and views on homosexuality across the board, this weekend's vote will end months of deliberations, if only to begin a new conflict within the church.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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