A US church in California has voted to officially break away from the US Episcopal Church over the issue of gay rights.

The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the global Anglican Church, which has been shaken by ongoing in-fighting over the issues of the ordination of gay clergy and blessing same-sex marriages.

The issue first became a significantly divisive matter in 2003 when the openly gay Gene Robinson was made Bishop of New Hampshire.

The San Joaquin diocese, based in Fresno, voted overwhelmingly at its annual convention to split from the body and to instead to join a conservative South American Anglican congregation.

The diocese is thought to be the first of the US Episcopal Church’s 110 dioceses to fully complete the process of leaving the body.

The decision may result in a legal dispute about ownership of the diocese’s property and other assets.

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