DENVER (AP) — Episcopalians have scrapped a plan to develop rites for same-sex couples, instead approving a resolution to support and minister to gays and lesbians in committed, monogamous relationships.
The resolution approved Tuesday by delegates at the Episcopal General Convention recognizes that unmarried church members in faithful relationships deserve the same support and pastoral care as other members.
But an original proposal, which included rites for unmarried couples — both gay and heterosexual — narrowly failed in the 832-member House of Deputies, comprised of clergy and lay members. The plan failed by one vote among clergy members and by four votes among lay members.
The 300-member House of Bishops was expected to consider the revised plan Wednesday at the Episcopal General Convention.
The Rev. Michael Hopkins of Glendale, Md., president of Integrity, an Episcopal gay advocacy group, said approval of the proposal would mark the first time the church has recognized "the presence of gay and lesbian relationships."
The resolution also acknowledges that individual dioceses will continue to bless same-sex unions without churchwide sanction.
"We're confused. We're not giving a clear message to anybody," said the Rev. Martyn Minns of Fairfax, Va., an opponent to blessing same-sex unions and a board member of the conservative American Anglican Council.
Opponents warned that approval of the original measure would divide the church and alienate the 70-million-member worldwide Anglican Church. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Church.
"Let those in this house not tear asunder that which God has brought together," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon of the South Carolina diocese.
The acceptance of homosexuals is among the biggest issues at the 10-day convention.
Other denominations, including the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), have recently voted against blessing same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals. The 1.4 million-member United Church of Christ sanctions same-sex unions.
Episcopalians have been debating the roles of homosexuals in the church for at least two decades. A 1976 resolution said they are full members of the church and entitled to "love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care."
But a 1979 resolution said it wasn't appropriate to ordain non-celibate homosexuals as priests. A 1994 church law says it is wrong to discriminate based on sexual orientation.