Robinson has been in a relationship with Andrew for more than 25 years
Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual bishop in the Anglican Church, whose ordination divided the Church in the United States, is to divorce his husband after four years of marriage.
The 66-year-old retired bishop married in 2010, when the state of New Hampshire legalised same-sex marriage.
He had been in a relationship with Mark Andrew for more than 25 years before announcing their split in an email to the diocese of New Hampshire last weekend.
In an article explaining the divorce, Bishop Robinson said that specific reasons would remain private, but said responsibility fell “on the shoulders of both parties”, while paying tribute to Andrew as one of the “kindest, most generous and loyal human beings on Earth”.
“It is at least a small comfort to me, as a gay-rights and marriage-equality advocate, to know that like any marriage, gay and lesbian couples are subject to the same complications and hardships that afflict marriages between heterosexual couples,” he wrote on The Daily Beast website.
“All of us sincerely intend, when we take our wedding vows, to live up to the ideal of ‘til death do us part. But not all of us are able to see this through until death indeed parts us.”
The split is the latest twist in a turbulent personal and professional life that reached its high point in 2003 when Bishop Robinson won a vote in the General Convention of the US Episcopal Church confirming his ordination as bishop.
The decision caused an international furore within the Anglican Communion, ultimately leading to the creation of an unrecognised conservative breakaway faction, the Anglican Church in North America, which aligned itself with several conservative African Anglican churches.
The breakaway US church now claims to have more than 100,000 members.
Bishop Robinson has been a leading advocate of gay rights in the Church since coming out about his sexuality in 1986. In the past, he has spoken of the intense pressure he has felt, having received death threats that required him to wear a bullet-proof vest. He has also sought help with alcoholism.
Some experts have predicted that his divorce could play into the still-heated debate in the Church over gay rights. “People will perhaps rub his nose in this for the rest of his life when he’s debating folks on the sexuality wars,” said Douglas LeBlanc, a veteran US religious affairs journalist and former editor of Christianity Today.
Bishop Robinson declined interviews, but asked for prayers and privacy. “As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for us — not a decision entered into lightly or without much counselling,” he wrote.