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Profile: Bishop Gene Robinson

11 July 08 16:25 GMT

Gene Robinson became the first openly gay bishop inside the wider Anglican Church in 2003.

His election as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire provoked a furore, threatening a schism within the Anglican Communion on the issue of homosexuality.

The American has lived openly with another man for 20 years, and in June 2008 they formalised their partnership with a civil ceremony and a service of thanksgiving, further inflaming tensions.

Conservative churchgoers believe active homosexuality is contrary to the Anglican Communion's teachings, which are rooted in the Bible.

However, liberal Anglicans have argued that biblical teachings on justice and inclusion should take precedence. Supporters say the bishop's work is an excellent example of Christianity.

Five years on, Bishop Robinson says he still believes a complete split can be averted, despite the anger and resentment from some bishops.

Questions and therapy

The bishop was born in 1947 after a long and very difficult delivery. The doctor in Lexington, Kentucky, asked his parents for a name for his birth - and death - certificate.

Charles and Imogene Robinson had been preparing for a girl and - reckoning it did not matter much - gave their gravely ill baby the names they had picked out for a daughter - Vicky Imogene.

The birth certificate was never changed. V Gene Robinson, who was temporarily paralysed at birth, grew strong and spent his childhood on a farm, where his parents worked as tobacco sharecroppers.

As a schoolboy, he began to realise that he might be different - he has spoken of how he reacted differently to Playboy magazine from his friends - but said it was not something to be open about.

Bishop Robinson attended the Disciples of Christ Church, and describes his upbringing as very religious.

It was while he was studying at the University of the South in Tennessee that he began to consider a career in the clergy. After graduating in American Studies, he entered a seminary.

Bishop Robinson says he had relationships with women but admitted - if only to himself - that he was also attracted to men.

He sought therapy to change himself while studying at the General Theological Seminary in New York. A short time later, he met Isabella Martin during an internship at the University of Vermont.

He says a month into their relationship, he explained his concerns about his sexuality although he believed the therapy had helped.

They later married and he took a job as a curate in New Jersey before they moved to New Hampshire in 1975.

The couple had two daughters - Jamee and Ella - and the clergyman set up successful youth programmes and ran a retreat.

In 1985, after seeking counselling, he and his wife decided they should separate. He went public with his sexuality and they divorced.

It was an amicable split; they released each other from their wedding vows, asked for each other's forgiveness and shared joint custody of their children.

Eighteen months later, Bishop Robinson began to date Mark Andrew, who subsequently moved to New Hampshire where the couple have lived together for two decades.

By all accounts, the extended family remains close - at the wedding of his eldest daughter, Bishop Robinson's partner led his ex-wife down the aisle.

'Neither devil nor angel'

Bishop Robinson seems beloved by his congregation and his diocese which elected him in 2003 from a wide range of candidates.

They have stood by him throughout the storm his appointment has stirred up in the wider Anglican Communion and simply ask that he should be judged - and celebrated - for the work he does.

Bishop Robinson says he is fully aware of the problems his election has brought, but believes it is God's will and that the faithful can work through it.

He says he prays hard for answers, but seems to have a fairly measured attitude to his own role.

"I'm neither the devil that one side would make me out to be, nor the angel that the other side would make me out to be," he told the BBC.

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