Episcopalians will consider a third openly gay bishop next month in Utah.

Openly gay Rev. Michael L. Barlowe is one of four finalists vying to replace retiring Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of the Utah Diocese in a special election to be held May 22.

Barlowe married his husband, the Rev. Paul Burrows, in San Francisco during the narrow May-to-November window in 2008 when gay marriage was legal in California.

If elected, Barlowe would become the third openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, joining New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who was installed in 2003, and Los Angeles Suffragan Bishop Mary D. Glasspool, whose ordination is scheduled to take place on May 5 at the Long Beach Arena.

Also being considered for the post are: the Rev. Juan A. Quevedo-Bosch, the Rev. Mary C. Sulerud and the Rev. Scott B. Hayashi.

Speaking with the Salt Lake Tribune, Ric Tanner, president of the Utah church's Standing Committee, which advises the bishop, called the four finalists “immediately engaging.” “We felt that any one of them would help us draw together as a church family, given the challenges of the diocese's great geographic separation and cultural diversity, between downtown Salt Lake City and Native American parishes on Utah's southern border.”

Talk of a third openly gay bishop taking place alongside Glasspool's ascension is certain to fuel an already overheated standoff between the 77 million-member Anglican Communion and its more liberal American branch, the Episcopal Church.

Robinson's 2003 ordination infuriated church conservatives and led to a self-imposed moratorium on the election of gay bishops.

Last July, however, the church reversed course when it voted in favor of lifting the ban at its general convention. Within six months the Los Angeles diocese had nominated Glasspool.

Dr. Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury, called Glasspool's election “regrettable” and suggested the Episcopal Church's moves threaten the bonds between the two churches.

The Utah Diocese will consecrate its new bishop on November 6.