Gay couples who seek spiritual affirmation of their relationships can now sanctify their unions with special blessings at South Florida's Episcopal churches. Priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida have been given permission to perform a distinct rite, different from the marriage between a man and a woman. Called "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant," the ceremony, to be introduced this month, was approved by national convention delegates over the summer. South Florida's Episcopal priests had been performing a locally approved liturgy for the past two years for couples who have been married in other states, Bishop Leo Frade said. Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriages. Frade said none of the priests in the 77-church diocese, which covers six South Florida counties, have told him they are morally opposed to the blessings. Lorraine Michels and Joan Van Ness were married in 2009 in Massachusetts, but decided to participate in a nine-couple blessing ceremony in April at All Saints Episcopal in Fort Lauderdale. They have been together since 1993.