The Episcopal Church in the US is to debate a blessing rite for gay couples who wish to marry.

The church only recognises marriage as being between a man and a woman and supporters of the blessing rite emphasise that it is not a sacrament and would not confer marriage on a couple.

However, if approved, the liturgy would be the first such rite endorsed by a major US denomination.

Titled “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”, it would allow for the exchange of rings.

In 2009, during its last General Convention, the church approved language encouraging bishops to give “generous pastoral response” to gay couples in states with marriage equality.

The church’s General Convention starts today in Indianapolis and the liturgy will be debated on Saturday. It requires the approval of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies.

In 2003, the Episcopal Church ordained the first openly gay bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.