Bishops Plan De Facto Change

By Sue Careless

By a hair’s breadth, a single clergy vote, the Anglican Church of Canada has defeated the motion to change its law to allow for same-sex marriage.

Because the motion to change the marriage canon was considered a matter of doctrine, it required a two-thirds majority in all three orders. It passed in the order of bishops by 68.42 percent and in the order of laity by 72.22 percent, but not in the order of clergy. There it received only 66.23 percent, meaning it was 0.43 percent shy of the two-thirds majority.

In a statement earlier this year, bishops had written that they did not expect such a measure to pass in their order. As it turned out, 26 bishops voted for the motion and only 12 opposed it.

The vote came after a five-hour legislative session July 11, during which more than 60 delegates spoke passionately but respectfully for and against the motion. Indigenous delegates tended to speak against the motion and more youth delegates than in recent synods spoke supporting a traditional view of marriage.

A solemn Evensong was held after the vote, but before the session was formally closed the Rt. Rev. John Chapman, Bishop of Ottawa, moved a motion calling for a reconsideration of the vote because of its closeness. This would be not a recount but a new vote.

The motion for a new vote, which also required a two-thirds majority by the synod voting as a whole, was also narrowly defeated, with 64.3 percent in favor.

Finally, at nearly 11 p.m., the session was closed and delegates, some weeping, left the hall. Primate Fred Hiltz remained for some time to comfort those who wished to gather with him.

Two Dioceses Proceed

During the night two bishops issued statements saying they would in fact allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses, following the legal advice of David Jones, General Synod’s chancellor. Jones said earlier that defeating the motion did not prohibit same-sex marriage.

The Rt. Rev. Michael Bird, Bishop of Niagara, quoted the chancellor’s judgment that the marriage canon “does not contain either a definition of marriage or a specific prohibition against solemnizing same-sex marriage.” Moreover, “Anglican conventions allow bishops to authorize ‘liturgies to respond to pastoral needs within their dioceses, in the absence of any actions by this General Synod to address these realities.’

“Accordingly, and in concert with several other bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is my intention to immediately exercise this authority to respond to the sacramental needs of the LGBTQ2 community in the Diocese of Niagara,” Bird said.

Bird said he would authorize two liturgies approved by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention (The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage and The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2) for use in his diocese.

The Rt. Rev. John Chapman, Bishop of Ottawa made a similar promise: “It is my intention, in consultation with and in partnership with a number of other diocesan bishops, to proceed with same-sex marriages immediately within the Diocese of Ottawa.

“While no clergy will be required to officiate at a same-sex marriage, those willing may do so with my permission. This is a pastoral decision that is necessary at this time in our history as a diocese and as a church.”

In a videotaped statement, the Most Rev. Colin Johnson, Archbishop of Toronto, was inclined in the same direction:

“The integrity and sanctity of same-sex relationships was affirmed by our church in 2004. I know there will be some among you who will disagree with me, but I do believe that the logical next step would be to permit same-sex marriages in the church at the pastoral discretion of the bishop and with the agreement of local clergy. This is an option I will be considering in the coming weeks.”

Analysis: A Familiar Pattern

While most of the synod delegates returned to their hotels believing same-sex marriage would not be allowed in the Anglican Church of Canada, they awoke to learn of these new diocesan developments.

This follows a similar pattern regarding same-sex blessings. Since 2002 the blessing of same-sex unions has occurred incrementally in more than a third of Canadian Anglican dioceses, although General Synod has never formally authorized such blessings.

 “Our work is not yet done,” a somber Hiltz said Tuesday morning. He said Bird, Chapman, and Johnson had the prerogative to authorize same-sex marriage in their dioceses.

Archbishop Hiltz also said he would issue a pastoral letter on Thursday that will be read Sunday in Anglican parishes across the country.

General Synod began its sessions on July 7 and will adjourn today.

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