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Gay Episcopal priest wins key vote for bishop post

Final decision expected Monday

Rev. Gene Robinson celebrates Sunday's vote but now faces one last vote before he can become a bishop.
Rev. Gene Robinson celebrates Sunday's vote but now faces one last vote before he can become a bishop.

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- Clergy and lay members of the Episcopal Church voted Sunday to approve the candidacy of an openly gay priest seeking to become a bishop in the church.

The vote means the Rev. Gene Robinson is one step closer to being consecrated as bishop. The final vote is expected Monday in the 100-member House of Bishops.

Robinson has been approved by his own diocese in New Hampshire, which selected him as bishop in June. A key group, the Episcopal Committee on Consent of Bishops, approved his candidacy Saturday. Robinson, 56, has been serving as assistant to the bishop of New Hampshire.

Episcopalians are meeting in Minneapolis for their annual General Convention, attended by 835 deputies representing about 110 dioceses in the United States.

Robinson needed a simple majority of both lay and clergy votes to be approved Sunday, which he received.

Out of 108 dioceses at the convention, Robinson was approved by the lay members of 63 and the clergy of 65. Lay members from 32 dioceses and clergy from 31 voted against his candidacy. Lay members from 13 dioceses and the clergy from 12 dioceses were divided on the issue.

The issue has sharply divided the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church in the United States, which is part of the 73-million-member Worldwide Anglican Communion. Church members opposed to Robinson's approval as bishop fear an even greater split and say it could distance their church from the wider Anglican Communion.

Robinson told CNN in an interview Saturday that he did not believe the issue should cause such a rift.

"I think all of the grim predictions about some sort of schism are probably overstated," Robinson said. "We certainly lost a few people when we ordained women, but there were great predictions that there would be a real worldwide split in the church, and indeed that's not come to pass."

A divorced father of two, Robinson has lived with his male partner for 13 years. One of his two daughters, Ella, 21, told the church committee Friday that she and her mother support Robinson's election, and called her father "a good man and a good father."

Those who favor Robinson's election say he would make a fine bishop and that it would position the Episcopal Church as a forward-moving group. They point out that Robinson and his partner share a committed, monogamous relationship that keeps them within the bounds of Scripture.

Opponents of Robinson's selection say his homosexuality is contrary to biblical teaching.

Hour of debate

Sunday's debate continued about an hour, with dozens of church members stepping up to microphones and voicing their support or disapproval of Robinson's election.

"I often sign off on bishops I know nothing about, trusting the discerning work of the diocese that has called them as chief pastors of their work," said Altagracia Perez, the rector of Holy Faith Church in Inglewood, California. "For once, I can vote with full confidence."

Perez said Robinson's life of personal integrity and faithfulness qualified him to be a bishop.

The Rev. Jeffrey Cerar of the Diocese of Virginia addressed those who would confirm Robinson "because it is the polite thing to do or because New Hampshire should have autonomy."

"You are missing the significance of this event," Cerar said. "What are we going to tell the world about the word of God? His homosexual partnership is contrary to the word of God, and he proclaims that God blesses it. That is the only reason the whole world cares what this tiny denomination says today."

George Marshall of the diocese of Albany, New York, said before the vote that Episcopal support for a gay bishop would show that the church is subject to the trends of modern society.

"They're not seeking a church that is blown this way and that by the winds of the larger culture," Marshall said. "It'll prove once again that our church doesn't have the confidence to proclaim the Gospel."

Robinson had said he would be disappointed if his candidacy were not affirmed but that he would not leave the church over it.

"I believe that the deputies here at the General Convention and the bishops -- both those who oppose my consent and those who support it -- are doing so in a very prayerful manner," Robinson told CNN. "I think they all live in a culture in which gay and lesbian folk are being more and more included all the time, but I think they are making this [decision] in the context of their own walk and journey with God."

CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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