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Episcopal Church OKs Gay Marriage Rite, Extends Rights Of Transgender Clergy

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The Episcopal Church voted Monday to allow clergy to bless same-sex marriages, positioning the church as the largest U.S. denomination to have such a liturgy. Bishops voted unanimously to allow the rite while also extending the church's anti-discrimination clauses for transgender clergy and members.

At the annual Episcopal General Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, the House Bishops voted overwhelmingly to authorize a temporary rite to bless same-sex marriages for the next three years. The decision also stipulated that officials who refuse to perform the rite cannot be punished under church law.

The final vote on the new liturgy, called "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant," passed 111 to 41 with three abstentions. The decision will now pass onto the House of Deputies and could go into effect as early as December.

The move poises the 14 million-member church to become the largest U.S. denomination to have such a liturgy for same-sex couples. The United Church of Christ, with just over 1 million members, has since 2005 been the largest U.S. church to have such a rite.

On Monday, the bishops also voted to strengthen anti-discrimination language in church doctrine to ensure transgender clergy and members were given equal rights. Although some churches already allowed transgender clergy, many advocates believed an explicit statement should be included in church doctrine.

The resolution, called "Extending the Rights of the Laity," will formally allow transgender members of the church to become clergy and lay leaders.

"I stand here as a priest today because my diocese specifically said that my gender identity and expression didn't disqualify me from the discernment process," Rev. Carla Robinson, a transgender vicar from the All Saints Church in Seattle said from the floor of the convention.

The U.S. Episcopal Church, an independent arm based on the canon of the Church of England, is one of the most progressive American churches.

The church ordains women and members of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender community and espouses a slogan "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!"

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