The governing bodies of the U.S. Episcopal Church have approved a rite for the blessing of same sex marriages and extended the church's nondiscrimination policy to include transgender people, making it the first major U.S. religion to do so. According to Reuters, the Episcopalian Chamber of Bishops met at the church's General Convention in Indianapolis on Monday and voted overwhelmingly to approve the measures, prompting activist Rev. Lowell Grisham of the pro-equality group Chicago Consultation to say, "Today the Episcopal Church affirmed the human dignity of a deeply stigmatised population that is far too often victim to discrimination, bullying and abuse."
Activist Donna Cartwright, a founding member of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), spoke to Raw Story from the convention in Indianapolis.
"We've worked hard on this for a number of years," Cartwright said, "This is a great day."
Cartwright explained that the Episcopal Church's General Convention meets every three years and is a bicameral governing body made up of the Chamber of Bishops, the church's highest ranking leaders, and the House of Deputies, which consists of clergy and laity. The generally more conservative Chamber of Bishops passed the new measures by wide margins and they are expected to win approval in the House of Deputies later this week.
According to Reuters, the Episcopal Church is the 14th largest denomination in the U.S. and Episcopal clergy have been able to bless same sex unions with permission from the church for several years. The new liturgy is called "Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant," and it will be included in the church's official masses and liturgies beginning in December.
Cartwright said it's gratifying to see that the church's endorsement of same sex marriage and its inclusion of transgender people are now enshrined in the church's canons. The votes, she said, are bringing the official values of the church in line with the values of a just and inclusive society.
"We're riding a wave that includes all LGBT people," she affirmed, "It's a great day, and we're continuing to work to make sure that transgender people and all LGBT people are welcome in the church and its ministries."