U.S. Episcopalians set to be first to bless gay marriage

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On Monday bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States – the 14th largest denomination in the country, with almost 2 million members – “overwhelmingly” approved a rite for blessing gay marriages, making it the first big U.S. church to say “yes” to gay marriage.

Speaking to Reuters, Ruth Meyers, a chair of the Episcopalians’ Subcommittee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music, said the Episcopal Church’s Chamber of Bishops agreed to the proposed blessing at a meeting in Indianapolis and its House of Deputies should formally approve it later this week.

“The decision would go into effect in December and make the Episcopal Church, an independent U.S.-based institution affiliated with global Anglicanism, the biggest U.S. church to allow a liturgy for same-sex marriages,” Reuters said.

Up until now, it had been the United Church of Christ, a mainstream Protestant denomination counting approximately 1 million members, which had done more than any other U.S. church to support same sex marriage voting in favour of it in 2005.

The new Episcopal same-sex liturgy is called “the Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” and would become the standard rite for same-sex marriage, Reuters reported.

In the past, it was bishops who showed the strongest opposition to such measures but the result of Monday’s vote showed a different attitude altogether, with 111 voting in favour and 41 against. Abstentions totalled 3.

The convention also approved inclusion of transgender people among those who should not be discriminated against, either for ordination or as lay leaders.

“Today the Episcopal Church affirmed the human dignity of a deeply stigmatized population that is far too often victim to discrimination, bullying and abuse,” the Reverend Lowell Grisham, a leader of the Chicago Consultation, a group that supports equality, said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

The Episcopal Church allowed gay priests 16 years ago and approved its first openly gay bishop 9 years ago.

Today, gay marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia and as Reuters reported, the legislatures of three states – New Jersey, Maryland and Washington State – approved gay marriage this year, although New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed it. Governors in the other two states signed the legislation but there are attempts being made to block it through a referendum. Monday’s decision has nevertheless marked yet another victory for gay-rights advocates in the U.S., after President Barack Obama endorsed gay marriage in May.

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