LOS ANGELES – The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected a lesbian as assistant bishop Saturday, the second openly gay bishop in the global Anglican fellowship, which is already deeply fractured over the first.
The Rev. Mary Glasspool of Baltimore needs approval from a majority of national church leaders before she can be consecrated as assistant bishop in the Los Angeles diocese.
Still, her victory underscored a continued Episcopal commitment to accepting same-sex relationships despite enormous pressure from other Anglicans to change their stand.
The head of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, has said she would consecrate any elected bishop as long as church rules for selection were followed.
The Episcopal Church, which is the Anglican body in the United States, caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Robinson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Breakaway Episcopal conservatives have formed a rival church, the Anglican Church in North America. Several overseas Anglicans have been pressuring the Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to officially recognize the new conservative entity.
The Rev. Kendall Harmon of the theologically traditional Diocese of South Carolina, which recently voted to distance itself from the national church, said Saturday's vote would further damage relations among Episcopalians, their fellow Anglicans and other Christians.
"This decision represents an intransigent embrace of a pattern of life Christians throughout history and the world have rejected as against biblical teaching," said Harmon, an adviser to the diocesan bishop.
The 77-million-member Anglican Communion is a family of churches that trace their roots to the missionary work of the Church of England. Most overseas Anglicans are Bible conservatives.
In 2004, Anglican leaders had asked the Episcopal Church for a moratorium on electing another gay bishop while they tried to prevent a permanent break in the fellowship.
Since the request was made, some Episcopal gay priests were nominated for bishop, but none was elected before Glasspool. Last July, the Episcopal General Convention, the U.S. church's top policy making body, affirmed that gay and lesbian priests were eligible to become bishops.
Jim Naughton of The Chicago Consultation, a group of Episcopal and Anglican clergy and lay people who advocate on behalf of gays and lesbians, called Glasspool's election "a liberation."
"We've been around this issue for 30 years," said Naughton, an adviser to the Episcopal bishop of Washington. "It's unreasonable to expect us to refrain from acting on the very prayerful conclusions that we've reached, especially when we think there are issues of justice involved."
Glasspool, 55, an adviser, or canon, for eight years to the Diocese of Maryland's bishop, said in an essay on the Los Angeles diocese Web site that she had an "intense struggle" while in college with her sexuality and the call to become a priest.
"Did God hate me (since I was a homosexual), or did God love me?" she wrote. "Did I hate (or love) myself?"
She said she met her partner, Becki Sander, while working in Massachusetts, and the two have been together since 1988. When a colleague recently asked for permission to submit Glasspool's name as a candidate in Los Angeles, she agreed because she believed it was time "for our wonderful church to move on and be the inclusive church we say we are."
A graduate of Dickinson College and Episcopal Divinity School, Glasspool was ordained in 1981, and has led parishes in Annapolis, Md., Boston and Philadelphia.
The Los Angeles diocese had openings for two assistant, or suffragan, bishops.
In the election for the first vacancy Friday, the winner was the Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce, rector of St. Clement's-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente. She will be the first female bishop in the diocese.
The Los Angeles diocese has 70,000 members and covers six Southern California counties.