Archbishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion voted Thursday to suspend the entire U.S. Episcopal Church over its embrace of same-sex marriage, which they said has caused "deep pain" and "deeper mistrust" in the denomination.
The vote by archbishops meeting in Canterbury, England, essentially directs Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to relegate almost 2 million American Episcopalians to non-voting "observer" status within their own communion.
Under the terms of the resolution, American Episcopalians and leaders will be stripped of their votes at Anglican conferences and assemblies, won't be allowed to participate in decision-making "on issues of doctrine or polity" and can't officially represent the Anglican Communion on interfaith commissions.
The action isn't anywhere near as severe as expulsion or excommunication. But the Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the U.S. church, said it does cause "real pain" for American Episcopalians.
"For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain," Curry said in a statement distributed through the church's Episcopal News Service.
"For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope," Curry said. "And this will add pain on top of pain."
The U.S. branch of the church has been at odds with the parent communion ever since it elected the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003. Robinson couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but he said Thursday on Twitter that Curry "speaks for me."
The tension grew exponentially after the U.S. church voted last summer to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
The Anglican archbishops called the American church's direction an improperly "unilateral" rejection of "the traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, [which] upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union."
The U.S. church's decisions, the archbishops said, "create a deeper mistrust between us" and have caused "deep pain throughout our Communion."
The archbishops directed Welby to appoint a task force to explore "our deep differences" and to keep lines of communication open.
Welby had called the church leaders to Canterbury for one of the church's occasional weeklong conferences "to discuss key issues face to face." But most attention was focused on the issue of what to do about the American church's acceptance of same-sex marriage last year.
He'd been expected to announce the outcome of the conference on Friday, but the news leaked to Anglican and Episcopal blogs and news outlets, and the church issued a statement late Thursday confirming it "to avoid speculation."
The Episcopal Church has long been a leading denomination of the U.S. political establishment.
At least nine U.S. presidents, most recently George H.W. Bush, were Episcopalians. And two of the country's most prominent houses of worship — St. John's, the so-called Church of the Presidents across from the White House, and Washington National Cathedral, also in the capital — are both affiliated with the Episcopal Church.