LONDON The Church of England's dioceses, or regions, have voted in favour of consecrating female bishops, campaigners said on Sunday, clearing one hurdle in a long legislative battle to let women break through the "stained glass ceiling."
Only two of the Church's 44 dioceses voted against the draft legislation, easily securing the 50 percent required for it to go back to the General Synod, or parliament, for another vote, said WATCH, a group campaigning for women bishops.
Dioceses have been balloting their members since March this year and Sunday's result confirmed what had largely been a foregone conclusion following the Synod's earlier backing of the motion.
But traditionalist Anglo Catholics and conservative evangelicals have threatened to continue to oppose the draft legislation, calling for more concessions.
Even if the draft is backed by a final synod vote next year, the first woman bishop is unlikely to be consecrated before 2014.
The Church of England is part of the 80-million strong, worldwide Anglican Communion. Other Anglican churches, including in the United States, Australia and Canada, already have women bishops.
But traditionalists and evangelicals continue to argue against it on biblical grounds.
The consecration of women bishops is one of the most divisive issues facing the church, alongside same sex marriages and the consecration of homosexuals.
The Church of England has been criticised for being obsessed with such issues at a time when families are struggling with economic hardship amid rising unemployment, higher prices and frozen wages as part of the British government's attempts to rein in a record peacetime budget deficit.
The Church was seen as weak and confused when demonstrators protesting against the excesses of capitalism last month parked 200 tents outside one of the its most famous places of worship, St Paul's Cathedral in London.
Liberals in the Church, who say it is insulting not to admit women to positions of power, argue concessions have already been made to appease opponents.
About 50 disaffected traditionalist bishops and priests in the Church of England have decided to leave the Anglican Church and take up Pope Benedict's offer to switch to Rome.
Others have decided to stay and fight from within. They say Jesus Christ's apostles were all men and that there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops.
They pointed to the number of dioceses who backed a following motion, or secondary motion, calling for improved provision for opponents to support their case.
Nearly a third of the Church of England's working priests are female.
(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Andrew Heavens)