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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Episcopal Church leaders in Los Angeles on Sunday nominated an openly gay priest and an openly lesbian priest as bishops in a move sure to ratchet up tensions in the global Anglican Communion.
The move follows an announcement on Saturday by the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota of three candidates identified to become the Bishop of Minnesota, including a partnered lesbian priest in Chicago.
The nominations come just weeks after the 2 million-member Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, lifted a de facto ban on the consecration of gay bishops.
That was regarded in some quarters as a "ceasefire" between liberal and conservative factions in the Episcopal Church and the wider 80-million member global Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles said on its website it had nominated six priests for December's election of two bishops suffragan, who act as assistants to the bishop of a diocese.
They include the Reverend John Kirkley of San Francisco and Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool of a Baltimore-based diocese, both of whom describe their homosexuality in biographies posted the Los Angeles Diocese website.
Church unity has been strained since 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop in Anglican history known to be in an openly gay relationship.
The ordaining of gay clergy and related issues have already prompted some congregations to leave the Episcopal fold and form a rival North American church that claims 100,000 believers. Anglican churches in regions like Africa have broken ties with their more liberal American brethren.
Some commentators believe that further schisms are sure to wrack both the U.S. church and wider Anglican Communion, whose branches are essentially offshoots of the Church of England.
The drama is unfolding against the backdrop of America's wider debate over sexual orientation issues, such as gay marriage, child adoption by same-sex parents and the status of homosexuals in the military.
Polls consistently show gays and lesbians enjoying growing acceptance in American society. But fast-growing faiths in the United States, such as many evangelical Protestant churches and the Mormon church, regard homosexual relations as sinful and proscribed by scripture.