The Church of England has dropped its ban on gay clergy becoming bishops.
This announcement, from the Church’s House of Bishops, would allow clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops if they promised to be celibate, the BBC reports.
In 2003, the issue split the church when gay cleric Jeffrey John, who has always maintained his celibacy, became a Bishop of Reading.
John, now Dean of St Albans, was forced to step down from the role after protests from traditionalists.
In 2010, he was a candidate for Bishop of Southwark but was rejected because of his sexual orientation.
Speaking to Gay Star News, The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s Reverend Sharon Ferguson said gay members of the clergy could become bishops before, as long as they remained celibate.
However, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams stopping gay clerics from becoming bishops proved it was only true in theory.
‘This is one of the things that we have always questioned, if a straight person has always maintained they are celibate no proof needs to be given,’ she said.
‘But when you are in a gay relationship, nobody believes you are celibate. It is clear discrimination.’
She said to be in a civil partnership, it does not need to be a sexual relationship. Consummation is part of marriage, not civil unions.
Ferguson added: ‘What the Church of England has said is nothing new. What we want them to do is take action and not bar clergy from taking up those offices through surreptitious means.’
Conservative religious people have said they are furious at the announcement, with some saying overseas clergy will not accept serving under a gay bishop.
Allowing gay clergy to become bishops will be seen as a big step for the Church of England, which is currently involved in an internal war over the government’s plans to legalize marriage equality.
The Church of England caused controversy last year when it revealed the synod would not allow a woman, lesbian or otherwise, to become a bishop.
UPDATE: The Reverend Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said: ‘The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate.
‘There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task.
He continued: ‘The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline.
‘All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.
‘But these, along with the candidate’s suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case.’
UK-based charity Stonewall also commented on the announcement, with Director of Public Affairs Ruth Hunt saying: ‘We’re sure many Anglicans will be happy to hear of the Church’s latest epiphany on gay clergy, although many lesbians will be disappointed that they remain unable to serve as bishops.
‘I’m sure celibate gay men will be thrilled by this exciting new job opportunity, if perhaps somewhat perplexed as to how it will be policed by the Church.’