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Last Updated: Friday, 1 August, 2003, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
US church backs gay bishop
Canon Gene Robinson
Gene Robinson's election has drawn worldwide protests
The Anglican Church in America has recommended that the controversial election of an openly gay bishop be confirmed.

The decision, made by the Committee for the Consecration of Bishops of the American Anglican Church, followed a debate at the church's general convention in Minneapolis.

During the intense debate Gene Robinson faced a series of questions about the nature of his sexual relationships from both clerics and lay people.

The decision means that the lower house of the governing body, the House of Deputies, will vote on whether to ratify Mr Robinson's election on Sunday.

The BBC religious affairs correspondent in Minneapolis, Jane Little, says the gay debate has overshadowed all others at the three-yearly meeting and Mr Robinson has been thrust into a sometimes uncomfortable spotlight.

Huge division

In front of a packed ballroom of clerics and lay people, he was asked about his relationship with his partner Mark.

"Why did God create people as sexual beings?" he was asked. Mr Robinson replied that his relationship was sacramental and a reflection of God's love.

In a charged atmosphere, many spoke out against Mr Robinson's appointment.

The Bishop of Pittsburgh said the election was sweepingly unconstitutional, while others said it was against scripture, tradition and reason and would make American members of the worldwide Anglican church mavericks.

However the Bishop of Arkansas said the Anglican Church - which is also known as the Episcopal church - must remain a voice of tolerance.

Hot topic

Our correspondent says opinion within the Church over homosexuality is as deep as it is wide, with conservative bishops from Australia to Nigeria throwing their weight behind what they see as a struggle for the scriptural integrity of the Church.

Many regard homosexuality as a sin; others merely wish to stick to Anglican guidelines that say gay clergy must be celibate.

Mr Robinson, the bishop-elect of New Hampshire is not.

He is a divorced father of two, who has been in a committed male relationship for 14 years.

He has the support of a large movement in the US that sees the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Church as a human rights issue, the final hurdle to be overcome.

They are also pushing for the creation of a formal rite to bless same-sex unions, something that already happens in many American diocese.

The debate over gay unions is a hot one in American society at large.

Recent advances in the courts for gay rights and a move to legalise gay marriage in the state of Massachusetts has prompted the intervention of the president.

US President George W Bush said this week that marriage should be between a man and woman and the administration is considering a proposal to amend the constitution to preclude gay marriage.

The BBC's Martha Doyle
"The American church is dominated by liberals"

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