Representatives of northern New Jersey's 125 Episcopal parishes voted Saturday to give their blessing to relationships between homosexuals and unmarried couples.
Under a resolution passed by clergy and lay people at the Diocese of Newark's annual convention, the diocese upheld "those pastors and congregations who minister and seek to include persons living out alternate patterns of sexuality and family life."
The clergy vote was 115 to 35; the laity vote was 234 to 128. The position taken by the diocese is a minority view among the nation's 3 million Episcopalians.
"The church is behind the times," said John Spong, Newark's Episcopal bishop. "I think we need to be more embracing of the pluralism of our times."
A spokesman at the church's national office in New York said the Newark Diocese, with about 46,000 members, has widened the church's debate on the issue.
"They may have offended people but they have helped the church clarify its own decisions," the Rev. William Dearnaley said. The resolution, he said, appears to be "no more than an affirmation that the Episcopal Church has held to for 10 to 12 years."
In 1979, the church's General Convention rejected similar recommendations, 100 to 23. But Spong said the church's leader, Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning, who was among the 23 dissenters, was receptive to reforms.
Last year, in a report ordered by the Newark Diocesan Conference in 1985, a clergy-laity task force recommended the changes.
The task force said attitudes toward marriage have changed as more women defer or reject weddings for careers and that the church should accept cohabitation and premarital sex.
The report also said homosexuals have as much right to worship God as heterosexuals and that their rights to church recognition and ministry should not be ignored.