The United Church of Canada has overwhelmingly voted to endorse same-sex marriages after an extensive and emotional debate.

The majority of delegates at the church's general council meeting in Wolfville, N.S., voted to ask Ottawa to recognize same-sex marriage in the same way as heterosexual ones.

"I've prayed for a long time for this to be passed," said delegate Rachel Cuthbertson.

Cuthbertson said legal recognition would legitimize her family.

"I have two moms. The three of us go to the United Church and it's the one place I feel really accepted," she said.

A vocal minority of delegates didn't support the motion.

"I don't favor this. I personally am very, very disappointed in the United Church," said Nick Mansour.

The church's new moderator, Very Rev. Peter Short, said he realizes some members want to keep the traditional definition of marriage.

Short said he's confident the decision won't divide the church because individual congregations and ministers won't be obligated to marry gay and lesbian couples.

"Our congregations don't have to decide this today or tomorrow. They may take their time and I think they'll be OK," said Short.

The United Church had been expected to adopt this position.

The church has recognized same-sex union for nearly 20 years and has ordained gay and lesbian ministers since 1988.