The United States Episcopal Church has announced it will now permit weddings for same-sex couples less than a week after the Supreme Court legalized the practice across country.
The AP reports that delegates at TEC's general convention in Salt Lake City, Utah 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 a "couple".
"Rapid changes in civil law concerning marriage in the United States, along with the responses received as part of the SCLM church-wide consultation process, indicate a need for equivalent proper liturgies in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal," reads a statement on the church's website.
"Further, the SCLM consultation process indicated a pastoral need for equivalent marriage rites that could be used by any couple."
The church announced the decision in a Twitter posting on Wednesday: "Today @ GC78: A036 passes In a vote by orders. As state law permits, Canons now permit ALL couples to be married in TEC." The posting concluded with the hasthag "#MarriageEquality."
The vote in the House of Deputies, the clergy and lay delegates, came the day after the House of Bishops approved the change by a 129-26 majority with five abstentions. The New York-based church of nearly 1.9 million members elected its first openly gay Episcopal bishop in 2003. While the denomination hadn't officially changed its laws on marriage until Wednesday, many dioceses allowed priests to perform civil same-sex weddings in the past several years.
Under the new rules, which will go into effect Nov. 1, clergy were given the right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, and bishops were given the right to refuse to allow the services to take place in their diocese.
On Tuesday, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby released a statement expressing his "deep concern" over the votes and urged the bishops to pull back, writing that the "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.
Bishop Edward S. Little II of northern Indiana, who voted against the change, told the convention that the "issue is not the welcome of gays and lesbians" - all agreed they were to be welcomed, he said - but "whether we should alter the received faith of the church?"
Bishop William Love of Albany, who also voted against the ruling, cited the biblical passage Matthew 19:5 in addressing the convention. In the passage, Jesus states that at marriage "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."
"If our Lord is the son of God ... God incarnate. He is quite aware of the nature of marriage and could have offered alternatives but did not," Love said, the Washington Post reports. The issue before the Episcopal Church was not whether "men and women can love each other," he stated, but that "God has told us that is not appropriate to use the gift of sexual intimacy" outside of the marriage of one man and one woman.
Bishop Daniel Martins, of Springfield, Illinois, wrote on his blog that while he can and will prohibit the use of the new rites in his diocese, he will be legally obliged to make them available on request.
He writes, "Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church has, today, effectively redefined marriage - a universal and timeless human social institution that Christians have believed is, in fact, not merely a human social institution, but a gift from God that is literally prehistoric, participating in the order of creation. We have done so, moreover, without even a pretense of consultation with the other provinces of the Anglican Communion, to say nothing of the rest of the Christian world. It is an act of breathtaking hubris, an abuse of common sense truly worthy of the descriptor Orwellian."