Gay Anglican priests will be able to register their relationships under Britain’s new civil partnerships law when it takes effect in December, in a proposal backed by the archbishop of Canterbury.

But gay clergy will still be barred from consummating their relationships under the plan, provisionally agreed at a meeting of Anglican bishops, The Sunday Times reported.

The decision means gay and lesbian priests will have access to inheritance, pension and other rights under British civil partnership law, which comes into force on 5 December.

Under the draft proposal, priests hoping to register their relationship would meet with their bishop and promise to uphold Church teachings, which include abstinence from sex for gay clergy.

The civil partnerships proposal makes no reference to sanctions, but priests who diverge from the rules may risk disciplinary measures or suspension, according to The Sunday Times.

The British move is likely to deepen Anglican division over homosexuality.

In February, international Church leaders asked North American churches to withdraw from the worldwide Anglican Consultative Council until 2008 because of their support for gay rights.

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