By David Dawson
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The U.S. Episcopal Church is poised to become the first major religious denomination in the United States to approve a rite for blessing gay marriages after its bishops overwhelmingly approved such a liturgy on Monday.
The proposed blessing was agreed by the church's Chamber of Bishops at a meeting in Indianapolis and is expected to receive final approval from its House of Deputies later this week, Ruth Meyers, a chair of the Episcopalians' Subcommittee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music, told Reuters.
The decision would go into effect in December and make the Episcopal Church, an independent U.S.-based institution affiliated with global Anglicanism, the biggest U.S. church to allow a liturgy for same-sex marriages.
The Episcopal Church is the 14th-largest denomination in the United States with nearly 2 million adherents, according to the National Council of Churches.
The United Church of Christ, a mainstream Protestant denomination with about a million members, has gone further so far than any other U.S. church, voting in 2005 to support same sex marriage.
The new Episcopal same-sex liturgy, called "the Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant," would be a standard rite for same-sex marriage.
For the past three years, bishops have been able approve requests for the blessing of same-sex marriages and Jeffrey Lee, the Bishop of Chicago, said he had authorized such ceremonies using an earlier version of the liturgy.
Resistance to similar measures in the past has been strongest among bishops, but Monday's vote was 111 in favor to 41 opposed with three abstentions.
The convention also approved inclusion of transgender people among those who should not be discriminated against, either for ordination or as lay leaders.
"Today the Episcopal Church affirmed the human dignity of a deeply stigmatized population that is far too often victim to discrimination, bullying and abuse," the Reverend Lowell Grisham, a leader of the Chicago Consultation, a group that supports equality, said in a statement. Continued...