The first gay US bishop, Gene Robinson, has spoken about coming out, his relationship with his former wife, and the chances of more gay bishops being elected.

In an interview with radio show Democracy Now, Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, said there were no positive gay role models when he grew up.

He said: “I grew up in a time when ‘gay’ was not a word that you used to describe homosexual people. You only spoke about them in quiet whispers, if at all. . . This is before Ellen, before Will & Grace. And it was almost like committing suicide to understand yourself to be a homosexual person. It’s hard to remember how the world has changed so much in these last 20 years.”

Robinson was married for 13 years to Isabella Martin, but the couple divorced in 1986. Robinson said they realised they were paying “a terrible price” for the gap between reality and appearance.

He said: “I had shared with her before we were married that my relationships had been with men, but I had been in therapy to cure myself, but that some day it might raise its ugly head. And indeed, after thirteen years of marriage, we made a commitment, a decision for both of us, that we – in order to live up to our vow to honour one another in the name of God, that we would let each other go.

“I felt that coming out was a call from God. I think God wants our insides and our outsides to agree. . . Little did I know that, 20 years later, I would be a bishop of the Church and telling my story as a witness to what God can do in one’s life.”

He is now in a civil partnership with Mark Andrew, his long-term partner.

Last month, it was revealed that two gay Episcopal priests are among the candidates for the role of assistant bishop of Los Angeles, while a lesbian is in the running for the position of bishop of Minnesota.

On the chances of one or more them being selected, Robinson said he knew “for sure” their sexuality would not be taken into consideration.

He said: “What those two dioceses will do will be the same that every diocese does: it will look at all of the candidates, look at all of the issues facing the church in that place, and then they will elect the person that they feel is best qualified to lead them into the future. If that turns out to be one of those gay or lesbian candidates, then they will be elected and, I believe, consented to by the rest of the church.”