Episcopal Church moves toward blessing gay unions

Sat Jul 18, 2009 11:43am EDT
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The U.S. Episcopal Church gave its clergy the go-ahead on Friday to bless some same-sex unions, such as civil partnerships in states that legally recognize them, setting the stage for further conflict with the wider Anglican world.

The resolution, passed on the final day of the church's triennial national convention, also directs church leaders to develop official rites, or liturgies, for the blessing of same-sex unions -- a move that could see the church eventually change its definition of marriage.

For now, the church's official definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The same-sex rites called for on Friday will be discussed and voted on at the next general church conference in three years.

The 2 million-member Episcopal Church earlier this week approved a resolution opening the doors to ordain gay men and women as clergy.

Both resolutions are sure to further strain U.S. Episcopal Church relations with its conservative parishes and the global Anglican Communion, whose 80 million members belong to congregations that are offshoots of the Church of England.

Church unity has been strained since 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop in Anglican history known to be in an openly gay relationship.

The ordaining of gay clergy and related issues have already prompted some congregations to leave the Episcopal fold and form a rival North American church that claims 100,000 believers. Anglican churches in regions like Africa have broken ties with their more liberal U.S. brethren.

"We're doing our best to make room for everybody. We have gay and lesbian members, and gay and lesbian clergy, and we are trying to honor the diversity of belief and theology in the church," Stephen Lane, the bishop of Maine, told Reuters before the resolution's final passage.

The drama is unfolding against the backdrop of America's wider debate over sexual orientation issues, such as gay marriage, child adoption by same-sex parents and the status of homosexuals in the military.   Continued...

<p>Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, delivers the invocation at the 'We Are One' Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, January 18, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed</p>