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The Episcopal Clergy Vote is an Important One for Gays

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It doesn't matter if you attend religious services weekly or if you have fallen away, if you're atheist or agnostic, if you think religion is the opiate of the people or the road to peace - established religion in America is an important force.

So when the bishops of the Episcopal Church voted this week to affirm gay clergy, it was an important move.

Ever since 2003, when the openly gay Gene Robinson was consecrated as a bishop, the 77-million member Anglican communion -- the worldwide body of which the Episcopal Church is a part -- has been threatened with schism.

Three years ago, there was a moratorium on future elevation of gay bishops until the issue could be more carefully considered. The gay Episcopal group Integrity says that this week's vote effectively ends the ban, though others say that it just affirmed what was already the case, that gays and lesbians are a full part of the Episcopal Church.

Last month, conservative breakaway churches in the U.S. formed their own Anglican group aligned with more conservative South American and African diocese. Called the Anglican Church in North America, they have a paltry 100,000 members compared with 2 million Episcopalians -- yet if the international Anglican groups choose to align with them instead, that could change.

For now, however, their absence has led to a more liberal Episcopal Church. A committee this week voted that the Episcopal Church should also permit the blessing of same-sex couples, though the full body won't vote on it until later this week. When it came to testifying in favor of the measure, 50 people did so -- only six testified against it.

All of this might seem like inside baseball to you if you're not Episcopalian, even more so if you're not Christian or not religious at all.

But it is important to all of us who support gay and lesbian rights, for a couple reasons.

First, the Episcopal Church is seen as the canary in the coal mine by other mainline Protestant Churches. They are waiting to see if accepting gays and lesbians as full members of the church will lead to a breaking away from the international church, or whether different views will be able to co-exist happily.

If the Anglican fellowship survives with an inclusive Episcopal Church, it might lead other denominations -- Lutherans, Presbyterians -- to follow the example of the United Church of Christ and become fully inclusive of gays and lesbians as well.

And once all Mainline Protestant churches start approving of gay marriage, it will be very difficult for politicians and anti-marriage advocates to make a religious argument against gay marriage, since it will be even more clear that not all denominations agree on this issues.

Secondly, however, the entire issue points out something that those of us who are American gays and lesbians often forget: the rights (or lack thereof) of gays and lesbians internationally has an effect on us here at home.

There is the threat of a schism because gays and lesbians in many parts of South America and Africa (South Africa being the notable, progressive exception) lag behind their American counterparts when it comes to how they are viewed by their societies. If gays and lesbians were seen as nearly equal in those parts of the world, we would have more rights in the U.S. now.

That is, mainline churches would have accepted us already -- which would lead to more pressure on politicians -- which would lead to a quicker change in our laws.

Gay and lesbian rights at home are affected by gay and lesbian rights abroad.

A gay rights battle in one place -- whether that place is within the Episcopal Church or in a city in Africa -- affects gay rights in every other place.

We will not have full equality here until gays and lesbians have equality everywhere.

Jennifer Vanasco is editor in chief of 365gay.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/JenniferVanasco; email her at Jennifer.Vanasco@gmail.com.

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