Concord, N.H. New Hampshire Episcopalians elected an openly gay man as their next bishop Saturday, a historic vote in a church deeply divided on the issue of homosexuality.
The selection of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, 56, who was chosen over three other candidates in voting by New Hampshire clergy and lay Episcopalians, is still subject to confirmation next month by the church's national General Convention.
The confirmation is likely to be a heated battle with international implications. Robinson drew opposition from many in the Anglican community worldwide.
The Anglican Communion represents 77 million people worldwide, including 2.3 million members of the Episcopal Church in the United States. In 1998, the Anglican Communion approved a resolution calling gay sex "incompatible with Scripture."
After the election, Robinson told his supporters to be gentle with those who disagreed with their decision.
"We will show the world how to be a Christian community," he said. "I plan to be a good bishop, not a gay bishop."
According to the Episcopal News Service, the only other bishop to publicly state that he is gay is Otis Charles, former bishop of Utah, who made the announcement in 1993 after retiring.
Robinson, who was married and has two grown children, now lives with his partner, Mark Andrew, in Weare and is an assistant to retiring Bishop Douglas Theuner. Friends say he remains on good terms with his ex-wife and two daughters, both of whom were at Saturday's election.
He preaches at area churches and has been active in local causes, such as establishing "Concord Outright," a support group for teenagers.
The Rev. Hays Junkin, head of the committee that selected the candidates, expects Robinson's election to be contentious at the General Convention. If confirmed at the national convention, Robinson would be installed next March.
Robinson faced opposition in New Hampshire, though all the candidates and Theuner have expressed support for gays and lesbians in the church.
His election is expected to be even more controversial among Anglicans abroad. Conservatives in the Church of England and elsewhere protested the appointment last month of an English bishop with liberal views on homosexuality, even though the new bishop vowed to uphold existing church policy on the subject.
The Rev. David Jones, rector of St. Paul's, said he was thrilled with Robinson's selection, even though he recognizes that the Bible speaks against homosexuality.
"The spirit works through that man so who am I to say God's not supposed to do that," Jones said.
On the final ballot, Robinson received 58 of 77 ballots cast by clergy and 96 of 165 lay votes.
New Hampshire Episcopalians number more than 12,000 in 50 parishes and missions.