Episcopalians overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples, solidifying the church’s embrace of gay rights that began more than a decade ago with the pioneering election of the first openly gay bishop. The vote came in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal General Convention, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. It passed in the House of Deputies, the voting body of clergy and lay participants at the meeting. The House of Bishops had approved the resolution Tuesday by 129-26 with five abstaining.
The vote eliminates gender-specific language from church laws on marriage so that same-sex couples could have religious weddings. Instead of “husband” and “wife,” for example, the new church law will refer to “the couple.” Under the new rules, clergy can decline to perform the ceremonies. The changes were approved 173-27. The convention also approved a gender-neutral prayer service for marriage on a 184-23 vote. The measures take effect the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29.
Many dioceses in the New York-based church of nearly 1.9 million members have allowed their priests to perform civil same-sex weddings, using a trial prayer service to bless the couple. Still, the church hadn’t changed its own laws on marriage until Wednesday.
Personally, I blame Henry VIII:
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. wing of the Anglican Communion, an 80 million-member global fellowship of churches. Ties among Anglicans have been strained since Episcopalians in 2003 elected Bishop Gene Robinson, who lived openly with his male partner, to lead the Diocese of New Hampshire. On the eve of the U.S. vote, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, issued a statement expressing deep concern about the move to change the definition of marriage.
Faith groups across the spectrum of belief, from the Episcopal Church to the Southern Baptists, have been losing members as more Americans say they identify with no particular religion. The Episcopal Church has shrunk 18 percent over the last decade, after more than a generation of steady decline.
Look for it to shrink even more.