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The Episcopal Church is set to become the first major American denomination to have an official blessing for same-sex couples after bishops approved the measure on Monday. The U.S. institution, affiliated with the global Anglican church, also cleared the way for the ordination of transgender clergy.
The House of Bishops approved the same-sex blessing by a vote of 111 in favor to 41 opposed, with 3 abstaining, at the denomination's national convention this week. The House of Deputies are expected to sign off on the measure Tuesday, according to CNN.* The church approved its first openly gay bishop in 2003, a controversial decision within the church that ultimately led to the creation of a separate Episcopal organization by more conservative church leaders.
The church leaders also approved an expansion of the Episcopal anti-discrimination language to include transgender individuals, essentially saying that the church can't deny a transgender person a clergy position because of their gender identity. That language already includes protections based on sexual preference.
As Religion Dispatches pointed out, some smaller U.S. denominations like the Unitarian Universalist church already have same-sex blessings, but the Episcopal Church represents a much more high-profile instance of a denomination formally supporting such a rite. The church has an estimated 2 million members and is the 14th-largest denomination in the United States.
The issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clergy and unions in the church has been a contentious issue for the worldwide Anglican community, according to the Associated Press.
*Correction: This post originally said the church had approved same-sex blessings. Only one body of the church—the House of Bishops—has approved the blessings; the other chamber will vote later Tuesday. In addition, this post misidentified the House of Bishops as the Chamber of Bishops.