Progressives in the Episcopal Church were on the verge of claiming another victory Wednesday as leaders endorsed the creation of blessing liturgies for same-sex unions one day after they ended a de facto ban on the ordination of gay bishops.
The action by bishops at the church's General Convention in Anaheim left conservatives with little to celebrate. They said the twin measures would further divide the 2.1-million member denomination and strain an already fragile relationship with the global Anglican Communion.
But those who championed the measure -- hammered out during hours of private meetings and public debate -- said they believed the Episcopal tent was large enough to accommodate those who disagree. They pointed to language in the measure that invites "theological reflection" from throughout the wider communion. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion.
"I hope it will help us to be more honest, more compassionate, more sympathetic toward one another," said Bishop Stephen Lane of Maine, who was part of a small group of bishops involved in crafting the compromise. "We have a breadth of opinion [in the church] and no one is compelled to go against their conscience."
The resolution passed by an overwhelming margin, with 104 bishops voting yes, 30 voting no and two abstaining after a failed attempt by some bishops to kill the measure. The resolution must still be approved by clergy and laity in the church's other legislative body, the House of Deputies -- a step widely viewed as all but certain. The convention ends Friday.
Since 2003, when the church consecrated an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, Anglican leaders have repeatedly urged the U.S. church to refrain from such steps and from further liberalization of its policies. Robinson's ordination also played a role in the exodus of four dioceses and dozens of congregations. They formed a rival church last month.
Traditionalists said they believe the church is responding to cultural currents rather than relying on biblical authority to guide its policies.
"Those of us who remain will be a small minority," Bishop Edward Little of the Diocese of Northern Indiana said before Wednesday's vote. "I pray there is still room for us."
The resolution calls for the church to "acknowledge the changing circumstances" in the United States and other countries that result from legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians. It says the developments "call forth a renewed pastoral response from this church" and for "theological and liturgical resources and liturgies for the blessing of same-gender relationships."
The measure also calls for Episcopalians to "honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality," but clergy who object would not be required to deliver the blessings.