With a vote Tuesday evening by its House of Deputies, the Episcopal Church became the largest U.S. denomination so far "to officially sanction same-sex relationships," as CNN's Belief blog writes.
The Associated Press says that "supporters of the same-sex blessings insisted it was not a marriage ceremony despite any similarities. Called 'The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,' the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Same-sex couples must complete counseling before having their unions or civil marriages blessed by the church."
And the wire service adds that:
"Other mainline Protestant churches have struck down barriers to gay ordination in recent years or allowed individual congregations to celebrate gay or lesbian unions. However, only one major U.S. Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed same-sex marriage outright."
At the church's website, "the Cognate Subcommittee on Blessings of the Committee 13, Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Church Music," reports that its resolution "also asks the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to undertake further study during the next three years on how the blessing of lifelong, committed same-sex relationships relates to Christian theology and scripture, and to reflect on the matter with our sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion and with our ecumenical partners."
According to CNN, the church now has about 1.95 million members in the U.S.
In May, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported for Morning Edition on how believers can "read the same Bible and come to opposite conclusions about same-sex relationships." Here's an excerpt:
"It's true, says Carmen Fowler LaBerge: You can be a Christian and support same-sex marriage, but, she says, 'nobody can say gay marriage is biblical. That's just foolishness.'
"LaBerge resigned her post as minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) after the denomination voted last year to ordain noncelibate gay clergy. She says the Bible is clear.
" 'From the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament, the only sexual relationships that are affirmed in scripture are those in the context of marriage between one man and one woman,' she says.
"Actually, the Old Testament does condone polygamy. Still, LaBerge says, from Leviticus to Paul's writings in Romans and First Corinthians, homosexual acts are called vile and detestable, and legalizing same-sex relationships does not change the sin.
"Not so fast, says the Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif. She takes her cues from Jesus.
" 'Jesus never said a single word about anything even remotely connected to homosexuality,' she says.
"Jesus does say the most important commandments are 'Love God' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Given that, Russell believes if Jesus were here today, he would celebrate committed, same-sex relationships."