The Rev. Gary Paterson has been elected to the role of Moderator of the United Church of Canada, becoming the first openly gay man to lead a mainstream religious denomination in the world.
The United Church of Canada had to hold six separate ballots over eight hours on Thursday to decide between a record 15 different candidates for the role but eventually settled on Paterson.
Paterson was cheered and applauded with a standing ovation when the decision was announced, and the 350 voting commissioners at the general council session then voted to approve his election unanimously.
The Moderator of the United Church of Canada is its executive officer and principle spokesperson. Paterson will hold the role for the next three years before the voting commissioners meet again to elect the next Moderator.
Following the election, Paterson acknowledged the historic nature of his election but told reporters he did not believe his sexuality had played a role in his election.
‘I am so humbled by the trust and the responsibility you have placed in my hands,’ Paterson told a press conference.
‘Among main line denominations, as far as I know this is probably a first … What some denominations or some parts of the world see as a huge dilemma or problem has not, within our immediate community here, been seen that way at all.’
Paterson said he hoped his election could inspire LGBT youth.
‘I see the possibility for so many young people who may still be struggling with their orientation being able to look up and see role models.’
Paterson was one of three openly gay candidates for the role of Moderator in the election.
Paterson is in a 30 year committed relationship with Tim Stevenson – the first openly gay man to be ordained as a United Church of Canada minister in 1992.
The United Church of Canada decided that homosexuals are morally equal with heterosexuals in the eyes of God in 1988 and one of the first Canadian religious denominations to perform same-sex marriages in Canada.