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The Episcopal Church joins two other mainline Protestant groups that allowed same-sex marriage in all their congregations: the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The 3.8-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lets its congregations decide for themselves, and many of them host gay weddings.
The United Methodist Church, by far the largest mainline Protestant church with 12.8 million members, bars gay marriage, although many of its clergy have been officiating at same-sex weddings recently in protest.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. wing of the Anglican Communion, an 80 million-member global fellowship of churches. Ties among Anglicans have been strained since Episcopalians in 2003 elected Bishop Gene Robinson, who lived openly with his male partner, to lead the Diocese of New Hampshire. Many theologically conservative Episcopalians either split off or distanced themselves from the national U.S. church after Robinson’s election.
On the eve of Wednesday’s vote, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, issued a statement expressing deep concern about the move to change the definition of marriage.
Robinson said after the vote, “It’s a day I wasn’t sure I would live to see.”
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After the Supreme Court ruling last week, many conservative churches, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons, renewed their opposition to gay marriage.
The gay marriage decision is the second major news to come from the convention, the top policymaking body of the church. The church elected its first black presiding bishop last weekend, with Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina winning in a landslide.
Curry has allowed same-sex church weddings in North Carolina, and he said the Supreme Court “affirmed the authenticity of love” by legalizing gay marriage.
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