Under a policy approved on Tuesday at the church’s national convention in Indianapolis, Episcopal priests will be allowed to conduct blessings for same-sex relationships. The policy was overwhelmingly approved in a vote at the convention.
Church officials stressed the new ceremony, which includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings, was not a same-sex marriage. Media affairs representative Nancy Davidge said:
“We have authorized a blessing, and a blessing is different than a marriage,” she said. “A blessing is a theological response to a monogamous, committed relationship.”
The blessing service, which is called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” will run for a three-year trial.
The Episcopal Church has about 1.95 million members in the United States
Each individual Episcopal bishop will be able to decide whether to allow the ceremonies in his or her diocese. Same-sex couples must also complete counselling before undergoing the rite.
Episcopalians caused uproar in 2003 by consecrating New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican world.
The only major U.S. denomination to endorse same-sex marriage across the board is the United Church of Christ, which did so in 2005.