By John Martin

The Church of Ireland’s General Synod rejected a call for services that celebrate same-sex unions. It voted 147 to 176 with 24 abstentions to reject a motion asking the church’s bishops to commission a service of public thanksgiving for legally married same-sex couples.

The synod did, however, authorize bishops to further examine theological differences on the issue.

The vote followed a two-hour debate. Clergy (56 to 72, nine abstentions) and laity (90 to 104, 15 abstentions) voted against. The motion was sponsored by Changing Attitude Ireland. Opponents said it impinged on the church’s traditional teaching on marriage and would constitute a problem for relations with other churches.

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One delegate, the Rev. Trevor Johnston of the Diocese of Connor in Northern Ireland, said the motion discriminated against those who do not act on their same-sex attraction.

“I feel I am being bullied,” said the Rev Alison Calvin of Kilmore “It’s not fair that my deeply held convictions are portrayed as those of a narrow-minded bigot.”

The synod had before it a 96-page Guide to the Conversation on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief [PDF]. The guide, the result of four years of work, made clear that there were “deep divisions” within the select committee producing it and the Church of Ireland.

The motion asked the church to prepare “sensitive pastoral arrangements for public prayer and thanksgiving with same-sex couples” at key points in their lives, including marriage. It also asked the church to acknowledge the “injury felt by members who enter into loving, committed and legally recognized same-sex relationships, due to the absence of provision for them.”

“The tone of the debate was respectful on both sides of the discussion and the debate was very sensitively chaired by the Archbishop of Armagh,” said Canon Ian Ellis, editor of Church of Ireland Gazette, in the Belfast Telegraph. “While I believe that couples who enter into such same-sex relationships need to be reassured both that the Church respects their love and care for each other and that they are not barred from receiving holy communion, I believe that the kind of public liturgical celebration that was envisaged in the motion could easily have given rise to confusion over the Church of Ireland’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

“We hope people will see this not as a defeat but as a debate to be revisited,” said Scott Golden of Changing Attitude Ireland. “It’s encouraging to note that views are changing.”

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