Episcopal clergy in the diocese of San Joaquin, California have been given the green light to bless gay and lesbian unions.

Clergy may “perform blessings of same gender civil marriages, domestic partnerships, and relationships which are lifelong committed relationships characterized by 'fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God,” Bishop Chester Talton said in an announcement released Thursday.

Starting Sunday, the diocese will recognize such relationships as “sacred unions.”

Gay marriage was legal in 2008 for a brief period in the state before voters approved Proposition 8, which overturned a California Supreme Court ruling legalizing the institution.

Talton noted that church and state law currently “limit marriages to opposite sex couples.”

“Accordingly, until such time as both the Canons and state law permit the solemnization of the marriage of a same gender couple, and specific authorization of the bishop is given, no priest of this Diocese shall attempt to solemnize a marriage between two persons of the same gender.”

California recognizes gay couples with domestic partnerships.

Episcopal bishops meeting in 2009 approved a resolution that recognizes the growing number of states that allow gay unions – either marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships – and in effect granted bishops in those states the discretion to offer a blessing.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who as leader of the Church of England is the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American branch, has protested the church's increasingly liberal attitude toward its gay members.