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Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson, who was ordained in 2003 despite his open homosexual relationship, is at the center of the dispute in the Anglican Communion.

CANTERBURY, Great Britain, January 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion have suspended the Episcopal Church of the United States for three years over its permissive policies regarding same-sex “marriage,” surprising many who predicted the leaders would agree only to disagree.

When news of the vote by primates of 38 Anglican churches throughout the world was leaked, the primates hastily released a statement that said in part: “It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

The statement blamed the suspension on the Episcopal Church’s “unilateral” actions, opposed by most Anglican churches in other countries, regarding same-sex unions. In votes in 2009 and 2012 the church permitted individual dioceses to decide whether to bless same-sex “marriages” or unions. The national church also stood by when the New Jersey and New York dioceses went further and allowed their clergy to marry homosexuals.

“Such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion,” stated the primates.

Mouneer Anis, the archbishop of Jerusalem, called the vote an answer to prayer. “God responded, praise the Lord! We affirmed with overwhelming majority the traditional and biblical teaching of marriage which is between a man and a woman for life.”

However, another leading opponent of recognizing or blessing same-sex unions, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda, delivered on his threat to walk out of the week-long meeting if “godly order” were not restored to the Anglican Communion. He meant that primates must condemn the Episcopal Church USA for its 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop, despite his openly homosexual relationship (Robinson has since “married,” and divorced, his longtime same-sex partner).

When the meeting apparently headed in a different direction, Ntagali said in a statement today, “It was, therefore, necessary for me to withdraw from the meeting, which I did at the end of the second day. It seemed that I was being manipulated into participating in a long meeting with the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada without the necessary discipline being upheld. My conscience is at peace.”

The Episcopal Church’s “presiding bishop,” Michael B. Curry had tried to stave off the suspension by telling the other primates his church supported members in same-sex unions not as an act of “capitulation to the ways of the culture” but from “our commitment to be an inclusive church… and our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.” Curry later released his comments to the Episcopal News Service.

The primates also directed Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion and the man who had summoned the primates to the meeting, to form a task force to try to heal the rift caused by the U.S. church.

Opposition to same-sex “marriage” is strongest where the Anglican Church itself is strongest: across central Africa. Before the meeting was held Welby acknowledged that schism over the issue was more than possible. Schism would be a “failure,” he said, but it could still be a positive thing if done amicably. He proposed an accommodation like that advanced at the recent Synod on the Family held by the Catholic Church in Rome–and rejected: that each national church develop its own policies regarding same-sex relations.

But the suspension of the U.S. church indicates that a majority of primates oppose same-sex “marriage” and Welby’s hope for Anglicanism to become a spiritual communion accommodating serious doctrinal disagreements depended on the issue never coming to a vote. When it did come to a vote, the American church was out.