NEW YORK – Episcopalians declared gays and lesbians eligible for "any ordained ministry" Tuesday, a vote expected to upset world Anglican leaders who had sought a clear moratorium on consecrating another gay bishop.
Episcopal leaders insisted they were still committed to membership in the Anglican Communion. Some Anglican leaders, however, predicted the vote would break their fellowship.
The Episcopal Church is the Anglican province in the United States.
The Episcopal General Convention, meeting in Anaheim, Calif., gave final approval to the measure during their once-every-three-year legislative assembly, which run through Friday.
"God has called and may call" gays in committed relationships to "any ordained ministry" in the church, the resolution says.
Lay people voted 78-21, and clergy voted 77-19, to approve the resolution. The House of Bishops had earlier voted 99-45 to adopt the statement.
Episcopalians caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Since then, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, has struggled to prevent a permanent Anglican split.
Last month, breakaway Episcopal conservatives and other like-minded traditionalists formed a rival national province to the Episcopal Church called the Anglican Church in North America.
The new body includes four breakaway Episcopal dioceses and is supported by several overseas Anglican leaders who have broken ties with the Episcopal Church.
The 77 million-member communion, which includes the Episcopal Church, is the third-largest grouping of churches worldwide, behind Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches.
Williams attended the convention in its opening days last week, telling delegates, "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart."
To ease tensions with overseas Anglicans, the Episcopal General Convention three years ago passed a resolution that urged restraint by dioceses considering gay candidates for bishop.
The latest statement is widely viewed by advocates for gay clergy, theological conservatives and others in the Anglican world as repealing that pledge.
The Episcopal gay advocacy group Integrity said in a statement that the declaration "effectively ends" the temporary prohibition on gay bishops.
Church of England Bishop N.T. Wright, a prominent Anglican scholar, wrote in an op-ed in The Times of London, that the vote "marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion."
He also called the Episcopal leaders' intention to remain a part of the Anglican Communion but rewrite the rules "cynical double-think."
"We should not be fooled," he wrote.
When Williams learned that the latest statement was heading toward approval, he told British reporters that he "regrets" the move.