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Episcopal bishops approve resolution to bless gay unions

Episcopal bishops approved a resolution to create a liturgy for same-sex unions Monday during the Church’s 77th General Convention in Indianapolis, with 111 votes in favor and 41 opposing.

The resolution known as A049 will now move to the House of Deputies, which is made up of both clergy and lay people.

 “It is the Jesus thing to do in our time,” the Rev. Michael Louis Vono of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande said in the meeting in support of the resolution.

In the proposed rites, each person would make a vow to the other, exchange rings and be declared "bound to one another in a holy covenant, as long as they both shall live." The resolution also asks that the liturgy be approved for provisional use starting the first week of Advent -- beginning on Dec. 2, 2012 -- and calls for a review process before the next General Convention in 2015. Congregations and clergy wishing to use the liturgy would need the permission of their bishops.

Some of the bishops who spoke against the resolution worried the decision would put the Episcopal Church out of the Christian mainstream, while the Rev. Steven Andrew Miller of Milwaukee asked whether the proposed blessings would create a second-class of LGBT people. Several bishops also worried that adopting the same-sex blessing legislation will be interpreted as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.   

If the blessings legislation is approved, it would make the Episcopal Church the biggest Christian denomination in the United States with rites for gay unions. The United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination with about 1.3 million members voted in 2005 to support full civil and religious marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Earlier Monday, the resolution was passed by the General Convention Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee key committee.

“This is clearly a work in process, and there is a place in that process for all Episcopalians, whether or not they agree with the action we are taking today,” Deputy Ruth Meyers of Chicago and Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely, chairs of the subcommittee on blessings, said in a press release.

The resolution was amended by the committee to specify that “no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support for the 77th General Convention’s action with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships.”

In states that currently allow same-sex civil marriage, such as Massachusetts and New York, Episcopalians may already bless same-sex marriages, but there is no formal church-wide liturgy. Commitment ceremonies for gay couples are allowed elsewhere in the church at the discretion of the local bishop.

Nearly 40 people testified on the proposed resolution during a Saturday hearing, and supporters outnumbered opponents, according to the Episcopal News Service, the church's officially sponsored news source.

Among them was Jonathan York, a sophomore at Duke University, who described the conflict he said he and many young gay Christians feel.

"So many gay people feel like they’re being forced to make a choice: They can have their place in their church, or they can have their identity," York said, according to ENS.

If the resolution is passed, York said, it would show gay Christians “that they do in fact have a place in God’s home.”

While expressing support of York and other young gay Christians, the Rev. Danielle Morris of the Diocese of Central Florida went on to ask that the resolution be struck down, as she believes it could endanger Christians living in predominantly Muslim countries.

“We know people who live in terror of our decision," Morris said, according to ENS. "Let us sacrifice not the blood of new martyrs but our own personal desires, all for the good and betterment of the world.”

Others urged for more time to consider the resolution, adding that the decision should not be taken lightly. The Rev. Sharon Lewis, alternate deputy of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, said the resolution is more than a “pastoral provision,” according to ENS. “It is really representing a different definition of marriage," Lewis said.

On Saturday, the House of Bishops approved a proposal that would give transgender men and women the right to become ministers in the church, if it survives a final vote.

The House of Bishops voted to include "gender identity and expression" in its "non-discrimination canons," meaning sexual orientation, including that of people who have undergone sex-change operations, cannot be used to exclude candidates to ministry. The move comes nine years after the Episcopal Church approved its first openly gay bishop.

The Episcopal Church is an independent U.S.-based church affiliated with the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Church has about 2 million members mostly in the United States.

It is not the only major U.S. denomination considering same-sex marriage issues.

The U.S. Presbyterian Church on Friday narrowly rejected a proposal for a constitutional change that would redefine marriage as a union between "two people" rather than between a woman and a man. The church, with around 2 million members, currently allows ministers to bless gay unions but prohibits them from solemnizing gay civil marriages.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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