Episcopalians have approved a churchwide ceremony to bless same-sex couples, the latest major step toward accepting homosexuality by a denomination that nine years ago elected the first openly gay bishop.
The liturgy can be used starting Dec. 2, the first Sunday in Advent.
At the Episcopal General Convention, which is divided into two voting bodies, about 80 percent of the House of Deputies voted Tuesday for the provisional rite for same-sex unions over the next three years. A day earlier, the House of Bishops approved the rites 111-41 during the church meeting in Indianapolis.
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, it includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Couples must complete counseling before their unions or civil marriages are blessed by the church.