Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 14:30 UK

US Church drops gay bishops ban

The Right Reverend Gene Robinson at St Mary"s Church
The vote could lead to more openly gay bishops like Gene Robinson

Bishops of the Anglican Church in the United States have voted to overturn a three-year ban on the appointment of gay bishops.

The decision could lead to the Episcopal Church's eventual exit from the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Communion has been fighting to avoid disintegration since the Episcopal Church consecrated the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.

The decision was made at the church's General Convention in California.

The resolution was passed by wide margins by both of the church's main decision-making bodies, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

The election of the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, six years ago created an apparently irreconcilable rift between liberal and traditional Anglicans.

Liberals believe the Bible should be reinterpreted in the light of contemporary wisdom.

Traditionalists insist that it unequivocally outlaws homosexuality.

Rowan Williams
I regret the fact that there is no will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the church in North America
Dr Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury

To avoid expulsion from the Communion, the Episcopal Church agreed a temporary ban on the ordination of gay bishops.

But, impatient for change, its General Convention voted on Tuesday to end the moratorium.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams - who is head of the 70-million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion - said earlier in the week:

"I regret the fact that there is no will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the church in North America."

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said those behind the motion say it still leaves room for dioceses to exercise restraint, and keep in effect to a moratorium.

But, he said, if it did lead to the election of another gay bishop, the decision would make it all but impossible for the Communion to stay intact.

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