The Episcopal Church has approved a liturgy that will allow priests to bless same-sex couples, making the church the biggest in the United States to endorse such a rite.
Starting on Dec. 2, the first Sunday of Advent, priests whose bishops give the OK will be allowed to bless the unions of gay and lesbian couples, whether same-sex marriage is legal in that state or not. (It’s currently legal in six states, as well as in Washington, D.C.)
The church’s two voting bodies approved the rite by nearly an 80% majority Tuesday at the Episcopal General Convention in Indianapolis.
“There is a place in this process for every Episcopalian regardless of their level of support,” Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont said during the debate, according to a story on the Episcopal Church website. “Read it. Reflect upon it. Use it, but please don’t ignore it.”
The ceremony is not referred to as marriage, but it can be used in marriage ceremonies in those states where gay marriage is legal. Bishops who do not wish to use the liturgy are allowed to opt out of its use.
The blessing is called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” and includes prayers and vows. The liturgy includes “I do” and an exchange of rings. Notably absent are the words “husband,” “wife” and “marriage.”
“While the liturgy we have developed is not called ‘marriage,’ we recognize significant parallels,” the committee wrote in its handbook on blessing same-sex marriages, called “I Bless You, And You Will Be a Blessing.” “Two people publicly make a lifelong, monogamous commitment to one another with the exchange of solemn vows in a ritual that pronounces God’s blessing on their life together.”
The resolution will go up for another vote at the next triennial convention in 2015. In the meantime, the commission that proposed the liturgy will study its implementation.