SALT LAKE CITY -- After decades of debate, the Episcopalian Church voted to allow same-sex couples to marry through religious ceremony at Episcopalian churches. The decision was made during the church's General Convention held in downtown Salt Lake City.
"You could hear the exhale in the room," said Rev. Nina Pooley of Maine.
Tuesday, the church's House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of the change. Wednesday, the vote was similar in the House of Deputies, solidifying the move.
"I think we finally got our courage together and voted our convictions, and I'm very happy," church member Jim Steadman said.
The changes represent a long sought after compromise between those for and against same-sex marriage ceremonies within the Episcopalian Church.
Under it, all gender-specific wording will be removed from church laws. For example, "husband and wife" will now be changed to "couple."
However, clergy members can choose not to officiate a marriage. The rules give them the ability to decline to participate, which means some couples may have to find another diocese to wed.
In Utah's Episcopalian diocese, the views seem to align with the majority. Bishop Scott Hayashi voted in favor the change and has been an advocate of same-sex marriage rights.
"I'm really proud of what we did," said Rev. Stan Baker of Vermont.
Baker has been battling for the rights of same-sex couples in the courts since the '90s. Openly gay, he acknowledges the need to balance everyone's rights within the church, which is why it felt necessary to him to allow some clergy members the opportunity to not partake in the ceremonies.
However, moving forward, he's hopeful this decision will become the new norm for everyone.
"I think we'll find, given a year or two, that this will probably not be the big issue we talk about," Baker said.
The changes take effect in November 2015.