JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Episcopal priests in Mississippi no longer need to seek the bishop's permission to perform weddings for same-sex couples.
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, Rt. Rev. Brian Seage, announced what he called the "significant" change in a June 3 letter to churches.
Seage said clergy members still have "the discretion to marry, or not marry, any specific couple for any reason."
He said he respects priests who are unable to perform same-sex weddings because of their own conscience or because they believe it would cause irreparable harm to their congregation's unity.
"My only request is that you refer, to me, any same sex couple seeking marriage, so arrangements can be made to offer these services of the church," Seage wrote.
Delegates to the Episcopal General Convention voted overwhelmingly last year to change church law to allow same-sex marriages throughout the denomination. Since then, Episcopal bishops in other some places had already said priests don't need to seek their permission to wed same-sex couples.
Seage, who has been Episcopal bishop in Mississippi since February 2015, had already called for compassion for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In early April, he issued a statement criticizing Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant for signing a bill that says clerks can cite their own religious beliefs to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Seage wrote that "the tragic component of this law is that the Legislature and governor have codified discrimination."
Pentecostal leaders and many Baptist pastors in Mississippi have spoken in support of the bill. Three federal lawsuits are seeking to block House Bill 1523 , which is set to become law July 1. It was one of several bills filed around the country in response to last summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
In his June 3 letter, Seage also asked LGBT Episcopalians "to continue to have patience with me and our church" on the issue of marriage.
"Please know that even if you have worshipped in a specific church for years, and are active in their ministry, there remains the possibility that the church and priest may be unable to officiate at your wedding," Seage wrote. Please find a way to be patient with them as they work with me to find a priest willing to solemnize your marriage."