By Rachel Zoll
(AP) -- The Episcopal Church has approved a churchwide ceremony for blessing same-sex unions.
The Episcopal General Convention gave final approval to the liturgy Tuesday during a meeting in Indianapolis. It's the latest Episcopal step toward accepting gay relationships. The church elected the first openly gay bishop in 2003.
Other liberal-leaning Protestants ordain gays or allow individual congregations to celebrate gay or lesbian unions. However, only one major Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed same-sex marriage outright.
Episcopal opponents of gay marriage say the new ceremonies effectively endorse same-sex marriage with no theological justification for doing so.
Each bishop will decide whether to allow the ceremonies in a local diocese. The liturgy can be used starting December 2, the first Sunday in Advent.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)