RELIGIOUS leaders in Salisbury have welcomed the Church of England’s decision to allow women to become bishops for the first time in its history.

On Monday, the General Synod in York passed legislation that will lead to the consecration of women bishops next year.

The decision follows years of debate and disagreement in the Church of England.

In 2012 the proposal was backed by the Houses of Bishops and clergy but blocked by traditionalist lay members.

And while the majority of church leaders greeted Monday’s decision with joy, some evangelical groups have condemned the move.

The Salisbury Diocese and Salisbury Cathedral have long supported the consecration of women bishops.

The Dean of Salisbury, The Very Reverend June Osborne, 61, who was the first dean of an English medieval cathedral, said Monday was a “historic day”.

"I don't think you can overstate the fact that the Church of England allowing women to take up the role of bishop is going to change the Church,” she said.

"I think it's going to change our society as well because it's one more step in accepting that women are really and truly equal in spiritual authority, as well as in leadership in society."

Dean Osborne is widely tipped as being in line to become a bishop now the legislation has been passed.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Revd Nicholas Holtam, has also welcomed the decision.

“This historic decision has rightly opened up the episcopate to all, regardless of gender,” he said.

“Although this is a new departure for England, it should be noted that Anglican women are already bishops in nine other countries. In some countries, women bishops have now been serving for a quarter of a century.

“I was particularly pleased by the principled and generous spirit in which this debate took place. I look forward to helping ensure that spirit continues to nurture a church in which all can flourish, including the minority who cannot, in conscience, support this step.”

The Church of England’s General Synod passed the legislation by more than the necessary two-thirds majority in each house.

In the House of Bishops 37 voted in favour of women bishops, with two against and one abstention.

House of Clergy members voted in support 162 to 25 with four abstentions.

And in the vital House of Laity vote – which defeated the proposal by six votes last time – 152 members voted in favour with 45 against and five members abstaining.