ANAHEIM, Calif. — Episcopalians on Friday authorized bishops to bless same-sex unions and research an official prayer for the ceremonies, capping a meeting that moved the church closer to accepting gay relationships despite turmoil over the issue in the Anglican family.
The Episcopal General Convention also underscored the church's desire to remain a full member of the global Anglican Communion. But the actions at the national assembly are likely to damage already strained relations within the fellowship.
Delegates voted earlier this week to effectively drop a pledge that they would act with "restraint" when considering any more openly gay candidates for bishop.
The Episcopal gay advocacy group Integrity said the church "turned an important corner."
But the Rev. Dan Martins of the Diocese of Northern Indiana said he feared the measure would widen the rift with overseas Anglicans.
"On this day, my church is covering itself in shame, and I am profoundly sorry for it," he said.
Anglican leaders had pressed Episcopalians for a moratorium on electing more gay bishops and asked the church not to develop an official prayer for same-gender couples.
The resolution also authorized a church commission to "collect and develop theological resources and liturgies" for blessing same-gender relationships for consideration at the next national convention in 2012. Many dioceses already allow clergy to bless same-sex couples, but there is no liturgy for the ceremonies in the denomination's Book of Prayer.