The U.S. Episcopal Church has approved a new worship service to bless same-sex couples, becoming the largest religious denomination in the United States to accept the union of homosexual couples.
The church's House of Deputies
, which is split equally between clergy and lay leaders, approved the blessing Tuesday by a vote of 171-50 at the national convention in Indianapolis. The House of Bishops passed the new policy on Monday by a vote of 111-41.
The new blessing, called "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant," includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings - but does not mention the word "marriage." The blessing will be introduced in early December, and will be evaluated for a three-year period until the next convention.
Local bishops can decide whether or not to allow the service and local priests will not be disciplined if they refuse to perform the ceremony.
Tuesday's vote is the latest move by the U.S. Episcopal Church, which has a membership of two million people, towards embracing homosexuality. The church elected its first openly gay bishop in 2003, which created a split in the denomination and angered leaders in the worldwide Anglican community.
The United Church of Christ is the only major denomination in the United States to officially recognize same-sex marriage.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.