US: Gay priest in running to replace Gene Robinson

Another married gay man may succeed the retiring Bishop V Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church in the US, the Diocese of New Hampshire announced.

The Rev William W Rich, a married homosexual, is senior associate rector at Trinity Church in Boston, and is one of the three candidates for the position of bishop. The other two candidates are the Rev Penelope Maud Bridges, rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls, Virginia, and the Rev A Robert Hirschfeld, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst.

Rich holds a doctoral degree in psychology and religion and has also been a lecturer at Union Theological Seminary in New York, the Boston Globe reported.

The issue of gay marriage and gay clergy is a controversial one within the Episcopalian community. The decision nine years ago to consecrate Robinson caused a rift within the church body, with many conservative Anglican leaders declaring their opposition and noting that the US body had gone against traditional Anglican teachings, as well as Scripture.

Robinson has lived with his partner, Mark Andrew, for more than 20 years, but said in 2010 that the constant death threats and criticism he had received over the years had weighed down on him and tired him out.

"While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn't say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate," Robinson expressed in 2010.

Now, a 200-member panel including clergy and elected delegates will vote by secret ballot on 19 May and decide on the new bishop.

"I think electors in New Hampshire are interested in getting the best bishop for New Hampshire,'' said the Rev Adrian Robbins-Cole, president of the Standing Committee, a diocesan advisory board. "People are very parochial in the end.''

Despite the ongoing debate on the role of homosexuals in the church, some believe that even if Rich is elected to the leadership position, the decision will not rattle nearly as many cages as the vote in 2003 did.

"It seems like the spotlight has kind of left us,'' said Margaret Porter, vice chairwoman of the bishop search committee.

A second partnered gay bishop, the Rev Mary Glasspool, was consecrated in 2010 by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles despite calls by the wider Anglican Communion to practice "gracious restraint" on the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals.