The leaders of the Episcopal Church have approved same-sex marriage by a more resounding margin than the Supreme Court did last week: The church's House of Deputies voted 173-27 in favor of new rules and rituals that will allow same-sex couples to be married in church, the AP reports. The House of Bishops backed the changes 129-26 on Tuesday. The church, which is the American member of the Anglican Communion, was seen as a trailblazer when it elected an openly gay bishop in 2003 and is now the third major Protestant group to allow gay marriage in all congregations, after the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church, which voted to redefine marriage earlier this year, the AP notes.
It took a week of debate at the church's General Convention to bring in the changes, which include ditching terms like "wife" and "husband" for gender-neutral language, the Deseret News reports. The final product of the negotiations was a compromise that allows clergy to refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, which means that although such ceremonies may begin in some areas this fall, they are unlikely to be held in more conservative dioceses, Episcopal priest George Conger explains at the Washington Post. "What the bishops did agree on was to hold conflicting stances in tension and allow each side to honor their consciences," he writes.