The Episcopal Church on Tuesday voted to allow religious weddings for gay couples, joining the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ in allowing same-sex marriages in all their congregations.
The decision by the House of Deputies – which includes lay people and clergy – came at the Episcopalian General Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, when delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending canon law so that instead of marriage being defined as between "a man and a woman" or "husband and wife", it is now gender-neutral and between “these persons” or “the couple”.
The resolutions, which will take effect after November 1, follow last Friday’s US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling to legalize same-sex marriages across the country.
According to an article on the House of Deputies' news website, the Rev. Susan Russell, a deputy from Los Angeles and a longtime advocate for the rights of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church, supported the new move, saying the resolutions, “provide as wide a tent as possible for the historic diversity that characterizes the Episcopal Church – guaranteeing access to marriage liturgies to all couples while protecting the conscience of clergy and bishops who dissent theologically.” She called it “an exemplary illustration of the hard, faithful work of a church refusing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good as it strives to become a more expansive and inclusive church.”
Others, however, are opposed to the new change and warn of a division in the church.
"This will create schism in our church," said the Very Rev. Jose Luis Mendoza-Barahona, a deputy from Honduras. “It goes against the charity we should be showing fellow Christians.”
Despite this recent vote, there will not be sweeping changes across the entire denomination as the Episcopalian clergy retain the right to refuse to officiate at any wedding, the church’s news website said.
The Episcopal Church, which has 1.9 million members in the US, has taken steps toward greater inclusiveness for same-sex couples in the past. In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first Episcopal bishop to live openly with a same-sex partner. In 2012, the church became the first in the US to authorize blessings for same-sex couples.
Episcopal’s approval of same-sex marriages is a move already at odds with the Anglican Communion, which the church belongs to. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has reportedly expressed his "deep concern" over the resolution.
"While recognizing the prerogative of The Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context, Archbishop Justin Welby said that its 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," the Anglican Communion News service reported.