Leading bishops of the two million-strong Episcopal Church in the US have approved a blessing for the relationships of gay couples.

The Chamber of Bishops made the decision yesterday in Indianapolis to allow priests to perform gay blessing ceremonies at the faith’s General Convention, though it must now be approved by the House of Deputies.

The Chamber voted 111 in favour to 41 opposed, with three abstentions, to create a liturgy to give a blessing to the commitment of same-sex couples.

The US Episcopal Church will become the largest denomination in the US to approve such a rite, which would come into force in December.

The Witnessing and Blessitng of a Lifelong Covenant, while it allows gay couples to exchange rings, is not a sacrament and would not confer marriage on a couple.

Bishops have been able to bless gay unions in the past using their own versions of the liturgy.

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.

In 2003, the Episcopal Church, which is affiliated with the Anglican communion, ordained the first openly gay bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

At the current convention, the bishops also approved a church-wide policy of non-discrimination against transgender people in the appointment of clergy.