Episcopal clergy in eastern Massachusetts are now allowed to solemnize marriages for "all eligible couples," including gay and lesbian couples.
"It's time for us to offer to gay and lesbian people the same sacrament of fidelity that we offer to the heterosexual world," Bishop M. Thomas Shaw told The Boston Globe.
Shaw's decision to permit priests to officiate at same-sex weddings went into effect on Sunday. It comes five years after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
"Christian marriage is a sacramental rite that has evolved in the church, along with confirmation, ordination, penance, and the anointing of the sick, and while it is not necessary for all, it must be open to all as a means of grace and sustenance to our Christian hope," the Episcopal bishop stated.
Leaders of the diocese met in August to develop a policy in response to a resolution passed by The Episcopal Church's highest legislative body this past summer. In July, The Episcopal Church adopted a resolution stating that "bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."
The resolution also noted the need to consider providing theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships.
The Episcopal Church's House of Deputies further approved a resolution opening the ordination process to all baptized members, including practicing homosexuals.
Dallas bishop the Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton rejected the resolution, declaring that the Diocese of Dallas would continue to "stand with the larger Church in affirming the primacy of Scripture, the sanctity of marriage and the call to holiness of life."
But over the past few months a number of dioceses have decided to lift bans on the blessing of same-sex unions, with the Diocese of Massachusetts taking a step further to allow clergy to solemnize same-gender marriages.
"Your bishops understand this (resolution) to mean for us here in the Diocese of Massachusetts that the clergy of this diocese may, at their discretion, solemnize marriages for all eligible couples, beginning Advent I," Shaw explained. "Solemnization, in accordance with Massachusetts law, includes hearing the declaration of consent, pronouncing the marriage and signing the marriage certificate."
He made clear that the provision is an allowance and not a requirement and that any member of the clergy may decline to wed gay and lesbian couples.
The eastern Massachusetts bishop noted to The Boston Globe that the diocese includes "a significant number of gay and lesbian clergy who are in partnerships" along with many gay and lesbian parishioners.
The Diocese of Massachusetts includes approximately 190 parishes and 77,000 church members.