The U.S. Episcopal Church became the biggest church in the United States to approve a provisional rite for blessing gay unions after its House of Deputies gave its final approval Tuesday.
The resolution passed with 78 percent approval in the lay order and 76 percent in the clergy order. The House of Deputies is made up of both clergy and lay people.
In the lay order, 86 deputations voted in favor, 19 against; five were divided. In the clergy order, 85 deputations voted in favor, 22 opposed the resolution and four were divided.
The proposed blessing liturgy was initially approved by the Church's House of Bishops Monday during the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis, with 111 votes in favor to 41 opposed and three abstentions.
Deputies of opposite views spoke in alternate succession Tuesday afternoon, with those against the proposal urging more time to consider a decision of such magnitude.
The Rev. Sharon Lewis, alternate deputy of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, said the liturgy is more than a “pastoral provision.”
"Let us move together in the heart of Christ, not turn this great big old church that I love so much on a dime,” Lewis said.
Speaking in favor of the blessings, Deputy Jenna Guy from Iowa said the resolution is important to the younger generation of Episcopalians, adding that passing the resolution would bring more people into the Church.
"It’s always with great pride that I tell [people] of the inclusive nature of this Church,” Guy said.
A deputy from Alaska added, "There is never anything wrong with celebrating love.”
The new Episcopal same-sex liturgy is called "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant."
In the proposed rite, 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 liturgy is expected to go into effect for provisional use starting the first week of Advent -- beginning on Dec. 2, 2012 -- and will undergo 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.
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.
The Episcopal Church is an independent U.S.-based church affiliated with the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church has about 2 million members, most in the United States.
It is not the only major U.S. denomination considering same-sex marriage issues.
The United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination with about 1 million members voted in 2005 to support full civil and religious marriage equality for same-sex couples.
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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