By The Associated Press
JACKSON — The bishop of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi has announced that he will allow some congregations to bless same-sex unions.
The Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray III made the announcement Friday in his opening address to the 186th Annual Council of the Diocese of Mississippi in Jackson.
In a statement, Gray said while a general ban on the blessing of same-sex marriages will remain in place, he will allow congregations that self-select and undergo a thorough process to move toward blessings of same-sex unions.
Last July, the Episcopal Church approved a new liturgy blessing same-sex unions during a national convention.
Gray said the process in Mississippi will be similar to one implemented in Texas. In Texas, each rector is allowed to choose whether his or her congregation will offer the ceremony if it’s approved.
“No priest, no vestry, no congregation will be asked to do anything that violates their conscience. This liturgy will only be authorized in congregations that have met” the criteria and have petitioned for permission, Gray said in his statement.
Mississippi does not recognize same-sex marriages.
Gray said the process is “provisional” and will be allowed only until the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2015. He said that the blessing liturgy provisionally approved by the 2012 General Convention is “not marriage,” something which would not be allowed under state law and “which my own conscience would not accept.”
Gray said that he is taking the step to keep the issue from dominating the nomination and election of his successor.
Gray said the election of a Bishop Coadjutor will be May 3, 2014. Gray said that he will continue as Diocesan Bishop until February 2015, at which time the new bishop will succeed him.
Gray has served as the ninth Diocesan Bishop for 10 years, having served two years before as Bishop Coadjutor. Before being elected bishop in 2000, he was rector of St. Peter’s Church in Oxford.