The House of Lords yesterday approved plans to allow women to become bishops in the Church of England.
The proposal was passed by the General Synod in July but required the consent of Parliament. It is expected to be agreed in the House of Commons next week.
In his speech before peers, Archbishop Justin Welby commended the proposal as "a change of historical significance".
"Over the past 20 years many women have given outstanding leadership as vicars, archdeacons and cathedral deans. Now for the first time, every post will be open to them," he said.
"For many people within the Church of England and others it has been a process full of frustration when looked at from the outside; and it has been somewhat baffling, particularly in recent years, that something which seems so simple and obvious should have become such a considerable problem."
The Archbishop noted the divide within the Church over female bishops, but insisted that "reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian message".
"In fact, it has been said that it is the Christian message. And it is a message – as the discussions in this House over the last few weeks have shown – that the world desperately needs," he continued.
"The example of being able to live with difference, and yet to live in unity, is called for more and more. We may regard other members of the Christian family as irritating, embarrassing or plain wrong. But they are part of the family, and we don't choose our families."
The Archbishop also called for the government to pass legislation that will allow women bishops to sit in the House of Lords. At present places are reserved for Canterbury and York, Durham, Winchester and London, with the other 21 episcopal seats allocated to the longest-serving bishops. This means that it could be many years before the first woman bishop is eligible.
However, Archbishop Welby said that there had been "solid cross-party support" for a change. He said: "My Lords, the measure before you today is very, very long overdue. The arrival of women diocesan bishops in this House is equally long overdue. I commend to you the motion standing in my name."
Following the Archbishop's address, Baroness Berridge gave her support to the "exciting" move.
"I am convinced that God, who lived on earth as a skilled craftsman, has given the competence to lead churches to some unusual suspects," she said.
"The Measure before your Lordships' House is a wonderful opportunity for the church to be a role model for our boardrooms, Armed Forces and, indeed, Parliament to show how leadership is done at its best."
Baroness Perry of Southwark also praised the "immense courage and patience" shown by women in the Church who had in the past "banged their heads against the concrete ceiling which the church, my church, had then imposed upon them".
"I cannot tell you of the immense pain which many of those women suffered with the feeling that their own church, which they loved and served, still did not recognise the potential that they had," she added.
"I cannot tell you how immensely happy I am at the passing of this Measure today."