The U.S. Episcopal Church has voted to change the church's rules governing marriage and to authorize their clergy to perform same-sex weddings, days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage for all Americans.
In two of the resolutions adopted at the General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City this week, the denomination made a canonical change eliminating language defining marriage as between a man and a woman as well as authorized two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.
The terms "man and woman" have been replaced with "couple."
However, both resolutions say that clergy retain the canonical right to refuse to officiate at any wedding.
The resolutions marked the culmination of a conversation launched when the 1976 General Convention said that "homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the church," said Brian Baker, deputy chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage, according to Episcopal News Service.
"That resolution began a 39-year conversation about what that full and equal claim would look like. The conversation has been difficult for many and painful for many," Baker added.
"The compromise means that same-sex weddings may occur after Nov. 1, 2015, with the full blessing of the church in places like Washington, Los Angeles and New York, but likely won't take place in more conservative parts of the church, like Dallas, Albany and Orlando," writes George Conger, an Episcopal priest in a parish in Florida, in an article in The Washington Post.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has expressed concern saying the decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.
After the passing of the resolutions, 20 bishops signed a "minority report" that was appended to the text of one of the resolutions.
"The nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage are linked to the relationship of man and woman," the report said. "The promises and vows of marriage presuppose husband and wife as the partners who are made one flesh in marriage. This understanding is a reasonable one, as well as in accord with Holy Scripture and Christian tradition in their teaching about marriage."
The bishops said they disagree "openly and transparently and – with the Spirit's help – charitably," adding, "We are grateful that Resolution A054 includes provision for bishops and priests to exercise their conscience."
However, they went on to state, "We realize at the same time that we have entered a season in which the tensions over these difficult matters may grow. We pray for the grace to be clear about our convictions and, at the same time, to love brothers and sisters with whom we disagree."
The denomination, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, approved a provisional rite for the blessing of a same-sex relationship in 2012. Several congregations have pulled out of the denomination then.