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.