The lay members of the top legislative body of the Church of England have voted never to allow any priest among its clergy who does not have a penis to be consecrated as a bishop within their church.

In a vote that defied outright the wishes of a striking majority of its own present bishops and priests, members of the House of Laity of the General Synod of the church fell a handful of votes short of reaching the two-thirds majority within their category of the synod required to approve a change of rules that would allow persons with a vagina to rise to the level of bishop within the leadership of the church.

The synod is divided into three units: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of Laity. All three units must each separately reach a two-thirds majority of its voting members in order to overturn present church law, according to media reports.

On the matter of allowing females to become bishops, the three houses voted collectively to approve the measure by a 75% majority. But the breakdown came when one of the houses did not reach a two-thirds majority in its indivivdual vote. The House of Bishops last Tuesday voted 44-3 in favor, with two abstentions. The vote in the House of Clergy was 148-45 in favor. The vote in the House of Laity was 132-74 — just six votes short of the two-thirds majority needed in that body, the New York Times and CNN both reported.

Women are presently allowed to be ordained as priests in the Church of England, and indeed, one-third of its priests are female. Women may hold other senior positions as well, such as canons or archdeacons, so it is apparently not a question of the spiritual or intellectual qualifications of females that causes conservative lay members to consistently vote against female elevation to the highest offices within the church. It is, it would seem, a lack of a particular physical characteristic. The church’s lay persons have laid down the law: No penis, no mitre.

The overwhelming support of the House of Bishops itself could not persuade enough of the church’s regular members to support a reform that has been 15 years in the attempting. A sufficient number of lay people within the church have made it clear: In the House of Bishops it shall always be: Vaginas Not Allowed.

Unless something radical occurs within the Church, the three houses of its General Synod will not even have another opportunity to vote again on the proposal to allow female bishops for another five years, according to procedural rules.

Reaction to last week’s vote was negative and strong from the majority of priests and bishops within the church — perhaps the most candid from the spiritual leader of the church himself, the Archbishop of Canterbury. After the vote, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams told the General Synod: “We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do. Whatever the motivation for voting…whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.”

Somewhat startling is the fact that, even in this first quarter of the 21st Century, when the question of women’s equality seems that it has been asked and answered by human society in most places, in the very sector of society where one would expect it is to resolved absolutely without discrimination toward any human beings — namely, Religion: the major institutions promoting God — the proclaiming of women as Second Class Citizens continues to be a major pillar and principle of its most sacred beliefs.

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