On Saturday, the diocese of California is scheduled to select a new leader. Three of the seven candidates are open homosexuals in committed relationships.
While conservative Episcopalians say that the California diocese could force a schism in the Anglican communion, the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an Episcopalian gay-rights group, welcomes the choice.
"The diocese has sent an important message to the church, that it was committed to presenting the best possible slate of qualified nominees and ... that gays and lesbians should not be excluded," Russell told the Christian Science Monitor.
The elevation of a gay priest, the Rev. Gene Robinson, to bishop of New Hampshire caused a firestorm. The conservatives are a minority in the United States Episcopal Church, but worldwide they include African churches that are the fastest-growing part of the Anglican Communion.
Whoever wins Saturday's vote in San Francisco, the choice must be ratified by the General Convention in June. If the diocese picks a homosexual, the debate is likely to be stormy.