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Head of ND Episcopal Church says he cannot 'in good conscience' allow gay marriages

FARGO - Earlier this month at its general convention in Utah, the U.S. Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly to allow same-sex marriages in the church, a decision that one reverend called a "huge step" for equality.

FARGO – Earlier this month at its general convention in Utah, the U.S. Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly to allow same-sex marriages in the church, a decision that one reverend called a "huge step" for equality.

But the Episcopalian leader in North Dakota, Bishop Michael G. Smith, said in a church newsletter this week that he plans to resist the new policy when it goes into effect Nov. 29.

"I remain unconvinced that God is doing something new by altering the order established in creation," the bishop wrote in a letter Monday. "Therefore, I cannot in good conscience authorize the use of these trial liturgies for the Diocese of North Dakota."

Cindy Roholt, a board member of the Fargo-based LGBT rights advocacy group Pride Collective and Community Center, said people were sure to be disappointed by Smith's stance. But she said "this is a matter for faith communities to decide on their own."

"It is a reality that some faiths may not sanctify these unions," Roholt said in a prepared statement. "It is unfortunate for those who want their union blessed and celebrated within their faith, but the good news is that they can be married in North Dakota" legally.

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Episcopalian clergy from across the world met at the church's convention in Salt Lake City, where on July 1 they voted to pass a resolution stating that church leaders "will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies."

Smith wrote that he will meet with all the clergy in the North Dakota diocese to figure out how to comply with the new requirement. Some of the possible solutions, he said, include asking clergy from a neighboring diocese to officiate any same-sex marriages.

The church's new policy allows clergy to decline to preside at a same-sex marriage.

Smith, who was elected the state's 11th bishop in 2004, wrote that when he arrived at the convention, "same-sex marriage was not legal in North Dakota and the Episcopal Church had no same-sex marriage rites." At the convention's end, the opposite was true.

He wrote that same-sex marriage is a "divisive" issue in the North Dakota diocese and that "we are far from reaching consensus on the matter."

Smith wrote that at the convention he voted against letting same-sex couples get married in the church. He cited their catechism: "Holy Matrimony is Christian Marriage in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union."

Smith declined to comment. The Episcopal Church, a member of the Anglican Communion, has an estimated 2 million members, according to the National Council of Churches.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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