Twelve US Episcopal bishops have spoken out against the church’s decision to approve a blessing for gay unions.

Last week, during the church’s biennial General Convention, the Chamber of Bishops voted 111-41 to allow priests to perform gay blessing ceremonies.

Titled ‘The Witnessing and Blessitng of a Lifelong Covenant’, the liturgy allows gay couples to exchange rings. It is not a sacrament and will not confer marriage on a couple.

Speaking in the House of Bishops yesterday, Rt Rev Michael G Smith, bishop of North Dakota, said he and at least 11 other bishops were stuck “between the proverbial rock and a hard place”.

The Episcopal News Service reports he said: “We struggle to hold together the evangelical faith of the church, from which we see this convention as departing, and the catholic order of the church, which causes us, for the sake of the unity for which Jesus prayed, to resist the temptation to leave this fellowship.”

Rev Smith went on to say that the bishops opposed the blessing on the grounds that the scriptures state sexual intimacy should be “exercised only within the context of marriage between a man and a woman” and that the liturgy is “for all practical purposes same-sex marriage”.