LONDON -- The Church of England voted Monday to allow women to enter its top ranks as bishops after years of bitter debates which at times threatened the stature of the state church in British society.
The church's national assembly, known as the General Synod, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the historic measure, reaching the required two-thirds majority in each of its three different houses. In total, 351 members of the three houses approved of the move, which had the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Prime Minister David Cameron. Only 72 voted against and 10 abstained.
Speaking before the vote in York in northern England, Bishop of Gloucester Michael Perham said "the ministry of women priests is a vital, deeply valued and transformative part of the life of the Church of England and for our mission in the nation."
He said the whole church had been disabled by the arguments over the issue.
The vote comes two years after similar legislation narrowly failed to reach the two-thirds majority, despite the approval from bishops and clergy.
After that vote failed, the church worked to build trust with its lay members, and make the legislation more acceptable to opponents while keeping the principal of allowing women bishops.
The General Synod ruled in 1975 there was no fundamental objection to women becoming priests, but it took nearly two decades for the first women to be ordained.
Things are likely to move faster for aspiring female bishops. Archbishop Welby told the BBC he expects the first woman bishop in the Church of England by next year.
The Church of England is part of the global Anglican Communion with its 44 self-governing churches in more than 160 countries. The Episcopal Church in the Unites States was the first member to have a woman bishop and is now led by a woman.