Gene Robinson has welcomed the introduction of civil unions in the state where he is bishop, and said he hopes to take advantage of his new rights as soon as possible.

His election as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2002 made him the first openly gay man to reach such a high position in the Anglican church.

His elevation also caused an ongoing row within the church.

Yesterday the New Hampshire legislature approved new legislation to recognise same-sex unions.

It will now be signed by the state Governor and will become law at the beginning of 2008.

Bishop Robinson lives with his partner of eighteen years, Mark Andrew, a state health care administrator.

He gave evidence to the state legislature earlier this month supporting same-sex unions.

“This legislation simply has nothing do to with religious bodies and their affirmation or rejection of such unions in the civil realm,” Bishop Robinson told a state committee hearing.

“What we seek in the civil realm is the equal treatment by the state government in supporting this development of our relationship with the legal, financial, and societal underpinnings which are afforded married couples at the very moment they say ‘I do.’”

Massachusetts has legal same-sex marriage and Vermont, New Jersey, and Connecticut have allowed civil unions.