TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Episcopal Church's Kansas diocese will allow clerical blessings of homosexual couples and unwed heterosexuals for whom marriage is a financial hardship, Bishop William E. Smalley said this week.
Smalley believes Kansas is the first diocese to bless unmarried heterosexuals. With homosexual unions, ''others are doing it, but are very quiet about it,'' he said.
Homosexual clergy and same-sex blessings are the most divisive issues in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church. International uproar followed a Canadian diocese's June vote to approve same-sex ceremonies.
Smalley said he based his decision on a resolution at the 2000 Episcopal convention that ''acknowledged'' some Episcopalians live in committed relationships outside wedlock.
A spokeswoman at Episcopal headquarters said the church leaves blessings for unmarried couples up to each diocese. The issue could arise again at next year's Episcopal convention.
Smalley said the blessings aren't a substitute for matrimony and might not resemble it liturgically. A parish must apply to Smalley before conducting such rituals.
''This has been a long struggle for me,'' Smalley said. ''I can say this decision was reached prayerfully.''
Episcopal Church: http://ecusa.anglican.org
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