The Church of England has produced guidelines for appointment of openly gay bishops.

A document produced by the Church, Choosing Bishops – The Equality Act 2010, states that there is no barrier to gay clergy becoming bishops so long as they are celibate and have always remained so while in the clergy.

However, in a nod to conservative Anglicans, the document states that a candidate could be vetoed if their appointment would cause “division and disunity” within the diocese they were to be appointed to.

The document reads, “A person’s sexual orientation is, in itself, irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry more generally. It would, therefore, be wrong if … account were taken of the fact that a candidate had identified himself as of gay sexual orientation.”

“[However] the Church of England’s teaching in relation to same-sex relations and, more recently, civil partnerships … make it clear that someone in a sexually active relationship outside marriage is not eligible for the episcopate or other ordained ministry.”

“The [Equality] Act allows Churches and religious organisations to impose a requirement that someone should not be in a civil partnership or impose a requirement related to sexual orientation where ‘because of the nature or context of the [office], the requirement is applied so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers’.”

“There is [no] statement of the position of the Church of England that declares that a celibate person in a civil partnership cannot be considered for appointment as a bishop.”

The policy document was prepared in response to the UK’s Equality Act that prevents discrimination against GLBTIs in employment and the provision of goods and services except where a religious organisation can show that a candidate’s sexuality directly would conflict with the role.

The formal statement of policy comes after years of debate in the Church over whether celibate gay clergy who are in civil unions can be bishops after openly gay priest Jeffery John was appointed bishop of Reading but then made to stand down by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (pictured), after a conservative backlash.

Supporters sought to install John as bishop of Southwark, but were blocked by Williams and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.

The document states, “It is clearly the case that a significant number of Anglicans, on grounds of strongly held religious conviction believe that a Christian leader should not enter into a civil partnership, even if celibate, because it involves forming an exclusive, lifelong bond with someone of the same sex, creates family ties and is generally viewed in wider society as akin to same-sex marriage.”

“It is equally clear that many other Anglicans believe that it is appropriate that clergy who are gay by orientation enter into civil partnerships, even though the discipline of the church requires them to remain sexually abstinent.”

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