The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church has released the first draft of the rites for consecrating same-sex unions, although the final draft probably will not be completed for many years.
In 2009, the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church decided that individual bishops would be allowed to decide whether or not to allow same-sex unions within their bishoprics, rather than outright banning the practice or creating an official rite.
However, the Convention also asked the Commission to draft "theological and liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships," which would then be voted on during the 77th General Convention in 2012.
The report, titled "I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing: Resources For Blessing Same-Gender Relationships," will be discussed by the House of Bishops and House of Deputies before the Convention begins on July 5.
If the report is approved, the rites would be used on a trial basis beginning Dec. 2, 2012, with further review at the 78th General Convention in 2015.
The Commission has also requested that a "task force of not more than 12 people, consisting of theologians, liturgists, pastors, and educators, to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage."
While many Episcopal churches, especially those in the San Francisco Bay area, have been blessing same-sex unions unofficially for decades, some Episcopalians worry that the rites will create further division within the church.
Controversy over the Anglican Communion's stance on homosexuality has already led to the secession of multiple dioceses and the formation of at least two new Anglican groups, the Anglican Church of North America and the Anglican Mission in the Americas. Both of these groups reject same-sex unions and the ordination of openly homosexual persons.
"Doing this will cause great fracturing and great pain," said the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina after the draft was commissioned during the last convention. "It represents a willful American embrace of something that the Anglican Communion has said is out of bounds."
In 1993, at the 13th Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, a resolution was passed stating that homosexual acts were "incompatible with scripture."
Additionally, in a 2004 study of same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion entitled "The Windsor Report," the commission expressed regret at both the recognition of same-sex unions within the Anglican Church of Canada and the Diocese of New Westminster in Massachusetts, as well as calling for a moratorium on the future blessing of same-sex unions.