An Episcopal committee decided Friday to let the church's delegates vote on whether to ratify the first election of an openly gay bishop. The ruling marks the first step in the process of allowing the Reverend V. Gene Robinson take up his post as bishop of New Hampshire, which some have warned could split the denomination. The committee, which voted by secret ballot and did not release a tally, questioned Robinson during a 90-minute hearing Friday morning.
Asked about how he reconciles his relationship with his partner of more than a decade, Mark Andrew, with biblical prohibitions on homosexuality, Robinson told the committee that in Andrew's "unfailing and unquestioning love for me, I experience a little bit of the kind of never-ending love that God has for me. So it's sacramental for me."
The committee's decision means the faith's two legislative bodies--one of bishops and the other of clergy and laypeople--will get a chance to decide whether to ratify Robinson's June election as bishop. Episcopal rules require that all bishops must be approved at the denomination's General Convention, a national meeting. This year's session began Wednesday and runs through August 8 in Minneapolis.
A separate hearing was set for Friday night on whether to approve blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
Leaders of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. member, are closely monitoring the vote, which could split the communion and alienate the American denomination from Anglicans worldwide. The 1998 Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering of Anglican leaders, approved a resolution calling gay sex "incompatible with Scripture."
Some American and overseas bishops who hold that view have warned they will sever ties with the 2.3 million-member U.S. church if either Robinson's election or blessings for same-sex couples is approved. In the United Kingdom an openly gay Anglican clergyman recently turned down an appointment as a bishop after fierce criticism from church leaders around the world.
Despite the divisions, Robinson is expected to be confirmed. The Episcopal News Service found only two bishops in church history whose elections were rejected--both in the 1870s. The chances for the same-sex blessing ceremonies are less certain. A similar measure was narrowly defeated at the last national convention three years ago.
A divorced father of two, the 56-year-old Robinson sat through Friday's hearing with Andrew and one of his daughters as several people spoke both in favor and against his candidacy for bishop.