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Church of England Lifts Ban On Gay Male Bishops, If They're Celibate

On Friday, the Church of England confirmed that it would not disqualify gay clergy in civil partnerships for the position of bishop if they pledge to remain celibate, as is already the norm for gay priests and deacons.

The decision follows a moratorium on nominating gay clergy in civil partnerships to the episcopate until a study was conducted issued in July 2011. On behalf of the House of Bishops of the Church of England, Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich in his statement said, "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."

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement welcomed the decision but said that gay bishops should not have to be celibate. Conservative evangelicals, on the other hand, have called the decision "divisive."

The debate around nominating gay clergy to the position of bishops has plagued the Anglican community for almost a decade. In 2003, Jeffrey John had to give up his appointment as bishop of Reading amid objections from church conservatives. That same year, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay bishop of the Anglican Church in the United States. The New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop retires this Saturday.

Despite the mixed reactions, it would be interesting to see what impact the Church's decision will have on African Anglican churches, which see homosexuality as sinful and strongly oppose the ordination of gay priests and bishops (except for South Africa). The decision also comes on the heels of a vote by the Church of England to not allow women bishops and the possibility that Britain may soon approve same-sex civil marriage very soon.

A columnist writes in the Guardian that this recent ruling strengthens the Church's position on gay marriage given its record on opposing same-sex marriage. But as a protest by the Church against being completely exempted from conducting same-sex marriages suggests, the Church's position is perhaps more complex.

When it was first announced that same-sex marriage was weeks away from being approved in Parliament, the Church voiced its opposition to the separation of "religious marriage" from "civil marriage." It is then not entirely sure what role the Church wishes to play vis-à-vis same-sex marriage.

The Church of England has had to confront a range of social issues as it struggles to remain at pace with developments in the 21st century. But the Church's woes with same-sex marriage legislation seem to be a small part of a larger changing political landscape in 2013 for the United Kingdom, as I've pointed out before.

David Cameron's backing of same-sex marriage, his attempt to regain support that his party has lost to the anti-EU UK Independence Party (Ukip), and a growing disaffection among religious and minority groups for same-sex marriage legislation are set to make 2013 an interesting, if not difficult, year for the Tories.

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