Episcopals vote to bless same-sex unions
One of the nation's largest churches is wading into the gay rights debate. Tuesday night, national Episcopal Church leaders voted to officially bless same-sex couples.
It's a move supported by local Episcopal leaders and strongly opposed by some other religious groups.
While it's not a same-sex wedding, Episcopal church deputies have now approved a blessing ceremony that includes an exchange of vows and rings.
"The signs outside our church say, 'All are welcome,'" said Rev. Pete Ross with the Diocese of Michigan. "Do we need an asterisk that says, 'All straight are welcome?'"
Rev. Ernesto Medina of Nebraska added: "There is never anything wrong with celebrating love."
The overwhelming vote came Tuesday night at Episcopalians' national convention in Indianapolis. It was not without controversy though.
"For 2,000 years, the church has had clear teaching regarding marriage, the Biblical norms for sexual behavior, and has upheld a standard consistent with God's word," said South Carolina's Rev. David Thurlow.
Locally, Bethlehem Bishop Paul Marshall has allowed same-sex blessings since 2009.
"This is a time of affirmation," he said in a statement Wednesday. "Very many people today feel that their prayers have been at long last answered … The Episcopal Church welcomes all -- no exceptions."
Same-sex union opponents claim the decision was not based on religion.
"The scripture is clear: a man and a woman in a marriage united forms a family, Biblically," said Sam Rohrer, with Pennsylvania Pastors' Network. "The reason that the change was made was in order to bring more young people into church or to be more inclusive."
Some supporters even admit the move was aimed at boosting sagging attendance.
"For the sake of the future growth of this church, I urge you to vote in favor [of this change]," said Rev. Jenna Guy of Iowa before Tuesday night's vote.
Episcopals consecrated the first openly-gay bishop almost 10 years ago. To appease critics, ministers who object to same-sex unions can opt-out of the blessing rites.
Copyright 2012 WFMZ. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.