Anglican bishops in the US have voted to reject a three-year moratorium on the consecration of gay clergy.

The result follows of a vote of clergy and laity on Sunday, which also voted against the moratorium.

Bishops at the Episcopal General Convention in California voted 99-45 with two abstentions for the statement, which read “God has called and may call” gays in committed lifelong relationships to serve as ministers.

Divisions over gay bishops began in 2003, when the openly gay Gene Robinson, of New Hampshire, was consecrated. His appointment caused deep rifts between liberals and traditionalists.

In the last three years, the Anglican Communion has been pushing the Episocopal Church to “restrain” the numbers of gay bishops in order to avoid a split in the Anglican church. No new gay bishops have been consecrated in this time.

The Episocopal Church will only ordain gay and lesbian bishops in committed relationships, rather than those who are single.

The latest vote is likely to lead to a full split.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who is the church’s spiritual leader, said yesterday he was disappointed at the move to allow gay bishops.

Addressing the General Synod of the Church of England meeting in York, Williams said: “I regret the fact that there is no will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the Church in North America.”

The move has been welcomed by Episcopal gay group Integrity.

Integrity president Susan Russell said in a statement: “While concurrence on the amended resolution by the House of Deputies is necessary before it is officially adopted by the church as a whole, there is no question that today’s vote in the House of Bishops was an historic move forward and a great day for all who support the full inclusion of all the baptised in the Body of Christ.”