Sixteen years after first allowing gays and lesbians to become priests and nine years after electing its first gay bishop, the Episcopal Church on Tuesday became the largest Christian denomination in the U.S. to offer religious blessings to same-sex couples.
The monumental decision, approved by a thick margin at the church's triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, means that priests in the 1.9 million-member church can officiate blessings to same-sex couples who are in long-term relationships beginning in December.
The church's House of Deputies voted 171 to 41, with nine people saying they were divided, to support a same-sex blessings liturgy that will be used during a three-year trial before the church meets again and decides if it should be permanent. The deputies' vote was done in two parts, with lay members approving the blessings by 78 percent and clergy members approving by 76 percent.
The vote followed Monday's decision by the church's House of Bishops supporting the measure by a 111 to 41, with three abstentions. Both groups have to approve new legislation.
Some Episcopal bishops currently allow same-sex blessings in their dioceses, but many have said they will not allow them unless the church has an official liturgy -- the words exchanged between a couple and a priest during the ceremony.
The new liturgy will not be mandatory. Bishops who do not approve of same-sex relationships will be allowed to bar its use in their dioceses. Priests who choose to not perform same-sex ceremonies will not face discipline.
The liturgy does not represent a religious marriage -- the church defines marriage as being between a man and a woman -- though some clergy in states that allow civil marriage officiate secular marriages in their churches.
During debate on Tuesday, many members of the church spoke in favor of same-sex blessings, while fewer spoke against them.
"I believe we are doing the loving thing, we are doing what Jesus would call on us to do," said the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, in an interview. "We are finding a way to to support and care for people who have shown lifelong care and love for each other," added Curry, who voted for the legislation and has been officiating same-sex marriages in his own diocese since 2004.
"This singular motion ... will result in the Episcopal Church of the United States marching not simply out of step with but completely out of line with the faith," said the Rev. David Thurlow of South Carolina, a deputy who planned to vote against the proposal.
Tuesday's vote followed the church's decision on Monday to allow the ordination of transgender people. That vote to change to the church's "nondiscrimination canons" to include "gender identity and expression" overwhelmingly passed the church House of Bishops and House of Deputies. It makes it illegal to bar from the priesthood people who were born into one gender and live as another or who do not identify themselves as male or female. It added to church rules against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disability and age.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S.-based wing of the Anglican Communion, an 85 million-member global denomination. In addition to its U.S.-based members, it has 173,000 members in other countries and territories, including the British Virgin Islands, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Taiwan and Venezuela.
Liberal trends in the church regarding the ordination of gay priests and bishops have increasingly strained its relations with its more conservative counterparts in the United Kingdom and Africa. The election in 2003 of its first gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, caused several dioceses to defect. The same day the Episcopal Church voted to allow transgender priests, the church's English counterpart, the Church of England, delayed until the fall a controversial vote on appointing women bishops.
The Episcopalians follow the 1.2 million-member United Church of Christ, which voted to approve same-sex marriage ceremonies in 2005. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) also allow same-sex marriage ceremonies. In addition, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish denominations allow same-sex blessings. In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America let churches recognize same-sex relationships, but it did not endorse an official church policy or liturgy for blessings.
At its biennial national meeting in Pittsburgh last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly rejected a measure that would have changed its definition of marriage from being a union between a man and a woman to one between "two people." In April at its General Conference in Tampa, the United Methodist Church also upheld its teaching on homosexuality, which does not recognize same-sex marriages or unions.
Click Through This Slideshow Of Inspiring LGBT Religious Leaders
Below is the text of "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant: Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships" in the Episcopal Church.
"The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant: Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Re...
Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajaje
Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajaje is Provost of Starr King School for the Ministry, Professor of Cultural Studies and Islamic Studies, and Sufi. Taught the first divinity school class in the US on African-American faith communities and HIV prevention.
Irshad Manji is a Muslim and founder and director of the <a href="https://www.irshadmanji.com/Moral-Courage-Project" target="_hplink">Moral Courage Project</a> at New York University's School of Public Service.
Bishop Gene Robinson
Bishop of the <a href="http://www.nhepiscopal.org/" target="_hplink">Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire</a>.
Rev. Ouyang Wen Feng
Reverend Ouyang Wen Feng founded a gay-friendly church outside Kuala Lumpur and is thought to be the country's only openly gay pastor. Although he now lives in the U.S., he frequently returns to Malaysia to call for gay rights, despite the country outlawing homosexuality.
Imam Daayiee Abdullah
Imam Daayiee Abdullah is the imam and religious director of <a href="http://daayieesplaceofinnerpeace.com/MASJID_ANNURAL_ISSLAAH.html" target="_hplink">Masjid An-Nur Al-Isslaah</a>, and the co-director of <a href="http://www.mpvusa.org/" target="_hplink">Muslims for Progressive Values</a>
Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool
Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool serves as the Assistant Bishop of <a href="http://www.ladiocese.org/" target="_hplink">The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles</a>.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum serves as the spiritual leader of <a href="http://www.cbst.org/" target="_hplink">Congregation Beit Simshat Torah</a>, the largest LGBT synagogue in the world.
Rev. Troy Perry
Rev. Troy Perry founded the LGBT denomination of <a href="http://mccchurch.org/" target="_hplink">Metropolitan Community Churches </a>(MCC) in 1968.
<a href="http://www.larryyang.org/home.html" target="_hplink">Larry Yang</a> is on the Spirit Rock Teachers' Council and a core teacher at the new East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, Calif.
Pastor Manny Santiago
Pastor Manny Santiago is the pastor of <a href="http://www.ubcseattle.org/" target="_hplink">University Baptist Church</a> in Seattle, Wa.
Rev. Scott Anderson
Rev. Scott Anderson is the first openly gay PCUSA minister ordained after the church voted to allow individual presbyteries to set their own ordination guidelines around sexual orientation
Rev. Pat Bumgardner
The Rev. Pat Bumgardner is currently the Senior Pastor of <a href="http://mccny.org/wordpress/" target="_hplink">Metropolitan Community Church</a> of New York.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg
Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, is Director of Orthodox Programs for <a href="http://www.nehirim.org/" target="_hplink">Nehirim</a>, the organization for GLBT Jewish culture and spirituality.
Bishop Yvette Flunder
Bishop Flunder founded the United Church of Christ Church, <a href="http://www.sfrefuge.org/index.cfm" target="_hplink">City of Refuge</a> and presiding Bishop of <a href="http://www.radicallyinclusive.com/" target="_hplink">The Fellowship</a>.
Archbishop Carl Bean
Archbishop Carl Bean founded the <a href="http://www.unityfellowshipchurch.org/mainsite/" target="_hplink">Unity Fellowship Church Movement,</a> a primarily African American and LGBT denomination.
Rev. Malcolm Boyd
Rev. Malcolm Boyd is an Episcopalian Priest and author of "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Are-You-Running-Me-Jesus/dp/1561012750" target="_hplink">Are You Running With Me Jesus?</a>"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Coloradem"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://i.huffpost.com/profiles/466930-tiny.png?20091015162513" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Coloradem">Coloradem</a>:<br />Justin Lee is the founder and Executive Director of the Gay Christian Network.
William R. Johnson
William R. Johnson - First Openly Gay person ordained in a mainline denomination (United Church of Christ) and founder of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns and Maranatha: Riversiders for LGBT Concerns at the Riverside Church, NYC.
Rev. Robin Reiter
Rev. Robin Reiter is the Founder and director of Sacred Abundance Ministries
Rev. August Gold
Founder of the Spiritual Center - NYC, Author, speaker, life coach.
Jimmy Creech was defrocked by the United Methodist Church and lost his ordination for performing same-sex commitment ceremonies. He is the author of Adam's Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor's Calling to Defy The Church's Persecution of Lesbians and Gays.
Executive Director of Fig Leaf
Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson
Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson is Senior Pastor at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX
Bayard Rsutin was the Quaker activist who not only mentored Dr. King in the principles of non-violent, non cooperation, but also helped found the Southern Church Leadership Conference. Rustin was the chief organizer of the '63 March on Washington, as well as of the first Freedom Rides in 1947. Because Rustin was openly gay, he had to remain behind the scenes in the Civil Rights movement, as his sexuality was the target of attacks by anti Civil Rights antagonists.
Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians that was founded in 1996. The magazine was the first of its kind on the internet has continued to be a resource for the LGBT community since then at whosoever.org. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians published in 2008.
Rabbi Denise Eger
Rabbi Denise Eger serves at Congregation Kol Ami and long time LGBT activist
Rev. Peter J. Gomes
Rev. Peter J. Gomes (who passed away earlier this year) was longtime pastor of The Memorial Church at Harvard. He came out in 1991, saying "I am a Christian who happens as well to be gay. Those realities, which are irreconcilable to some, are reconciled in me by a loving God."
Pastor Dennis A. Meredith
Pastor Dennis A. Meredith is the Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA
Pastor Darlene C. A. Franklin
Pastor Franklin is the Pastor of Agape Spirit Life Ministries in Detroit. She is a leader in social justice and a pioneer in spiritual equality for the LGBT Community.
Rev. Roger E. Hayes
Rev. Hayes is the Senior Pastor of Church Of The Holy Spirit Fellowship located in Winston Salem, Nc
The Rev. Elder Jim Mitulski
Rev. Jim Mitulski, pastor of MCC New York City, came to MCC San Francisco. Under Jim's leadership for 15 years, the church entered a period of sustained growth during the devastating years of the AIDS epidemic and shifted from being a place to meet on Sundays into an integrated part of the San Francisco queer community.
Dr. Herukhuti, Founder of Black Funk: The Center for Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality; author of Conjuring Black Funk: Notes on Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality; and practitioner of traditional African and African Diasporic spirituality.
Archbishop Michael Seneco
Archbishop Michael Seneco, the presiding bishop of the North American Old Catholic Church- a progressive Catholic denomination with ministries in 23 states.
The Rev. Dr. Katrina D. Foster
Rev. Dr. Katrina D. Foster is an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastor. In 2007 she came out of the floor of her denomination's national assembly, after which the bishops put forth a resolution allowing them to abstain from discipling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pastors with families and not face disciplinary action themselves for not bringing charges against these pastors.
Rabbi Andrea Myers
Rabbi Andrea Myers is the author of the book, "The Choosing-A Rabbi's Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days", an activist and mother.
Author Jay Michaelson
Jay Michaelson is a writer, scholar, and actvist whose work focuses on the intersections of religion, spirituality, sexuality, and law. His newest book, "God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality" shows that the Bible supports equal rights.
The Rev. Dr. Neil Thomas
The Rev. Dr. Neil Thomas is currently the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles.
Rev. Canon Susan Russell
Rev. Canon Susan Russell is the Associate Pastor at All Saints Pasadena, CA, past president of Integrity, HRC Religion and Faith Council.
Pastor Bradley Schmeling
Rev. Bradley Schmeling is Pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church, ELCA, Atlanta GA. Led the way for full inclusion of LGBT clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Rev. Dr. Nancy L. Wilson
Rev. Dr. Nancy L. Wilson is Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches
Rev. Michael Hydes
Rev. Michael Hydes is the Pastor of New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown, MD
Rev. Jo Pang
Pastor Of Good Samaritan Church In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia