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Gay bishop to retire after death threats take toll

The first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion will retire in 2013, due in part to the "constant strain" on him and his family from the worldwide backlash against his election seven years ago.

Bishop Gene Robinson, whose consecration convulsed the global Anglican fellowship, said he was announcing his retirement early so that the transition would be smooth for the diocese of New Hampshire. He assured congregants that he is healthy and sober after seeking treatment for alcoholism five years ago. He will be 65 when he steps down.

Bishop Robinson revealed his plans at the annual diocesan convention in Concord. "The last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family and you," the bishop said, in prepared remarks released by the diocese. "Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark."

Bishop Robinson was surrounded by bodyguards and wore a bulletproof vest under his vestments when he was consecrated in 2003, an event celebrated far beyond the church as a breakthrough for gay acceptance even as it broke open a long-developing rift over what Anglicans should believe.

The Episcopal Church is the US body in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, a group of churches that trace their roots to the missionary work of the Church of England.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has been struggling to keep the fellowship together since Bishop Robinson was installed.

Episcopal and Anglican traditionalists overseas formed alliances and created the Anglican Church in North America as a conservative rival to the Episcopal Church.