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Episcopalians approved a church wide ceremony Tuesday to bless gay couples, the latest decisive step toward accepting homosexuality by a denomination that nine years ago elected the first openly gay bishop,Reuters news  said

During the Episcopal General Convention, which is divided into two voting bodies, about 80% of the House of Deputies voted to authorize a provisional rite for gay  unions for the next three years. A day earlier, the House of Bishops approved the rites 111-41 with three abstentions during the church meeting in Indianapolis.

Supporters of  gay  blessings insisted it was not a marriage ceremony despite any similarities. Called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Gay couples must complete counseling before having their unions or civil marriages blessed by the church.

Other mainline Protestant churches have struck down barriers to gay ordination in recent years or allowed individual congregations to celebrate gay or lesbian unions. However, only one major U.S. Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed gay marriage outright.