The Episcopal Church in the USA has agreed to take steps towards formally allowing blessings for same-sex partnerships in its churches. Bishops voted by a majority of more than three to one to prepare resources for such ceremonies before making a decision in three years time.
The bishops’ vote has triggered dire warnings of imminent schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion. It follows a decision earlier in the week to remove the bar on priests in monogamous same-sex partnerships from becoming bishops.
The Church had previously agreed to a three-year moratorium on both issues in an attempt to maintain unity.
However, many suggest that the conservative wing of Anglicanism had broken its own side of the bargain by continuing to campaign vigorously against the inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Anti-inclusion hardliners have broken away from the US Episcopal Church to set up their own jurisdictions.
Contrary to some reports, the vote does not mean that the solemnising of same-sex relatinships by Episcopal churches in the US is imminent. Instead, the bishops agreed to “collect and develop theological resources and liturgies” in preparation for a decision in 2012.
Noting that several states now allow marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples, the Bishops voted to allow churches to provide a “generous pastoral response” to those couples.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently warned against decisions “that could push us further apart”. He has yet to comment formally on the US bishops’ decision.