Same-Sex Marriage Canon Narrowly Fails in Canada

By Mark Michael

The Anglican Church of Canada will maintain its traditional definition of marriage, as a resolution to amend the church’s marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriage fell two votes short of passage by General Synod at its meeting in Vancouver on July 12.

A majority of delegates in all three orders (laity, clergy and bishops) voted to back the change, and it crossed the necessary two-thirds threshold for canonical revision among the laity (80.9%) and the clergy (73.2%). Among the bishops, it mustered 62.2%, with 23 bishops voting for the change, 14 voting against (37.8%) and two abstentions. If two of the bishops voting no had voted yes instead, the measure would have passed.

Reaction to the vote was dramatic within the synod meeting room, according to Matt Gardner of The Anglican Journal, with an audible scream in the hall and one young delegate running out in tears as the final tallies were announced. Delegates rushed to the microphones to urge a reconsideration, but the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, closed the proceedings for the day.

“Our children are crying. And many of you are crying, for a variety of reasons,” the archbishop said to the delegates. “So I think it’s time to adjourn. It’s time to leave this hall in silence. It’s time for you to go and do what you need to do — to cry, or to gather with delegates from your own diocese; to gather with friends, to gather in circles of prayer, just to try and be attentive to one another.”

Hiltz noted that other legislation about same-sex marriage could be brought before the synod before the body adjourns for three years on July 16.  “If there are proposals for other resolutions on the same matter, there are provisions for how to deal with that,” Hiltz said, “But it needs to be at another moment in this synod.”  A great deal of other business remains to be considered, however, including the election of a new primate.

Resolution A052-R2 was the required second reading of the canonical change, which had been narrowly approved for the first time in 2016. The marriage canon would have been amended so that its provisions “applies to all persons who are duly qualified by civil law to enter into marriage” and would have replaced all references to husband and wife with “the parties to the marriage.”

The vote came almost one year to the day after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (TEC) enacted a hard-fought compromise on July 13, 2018, mandating that Episcopalians in every diocese must have access to same-sex marriage rites.

The Canadian measure, if it had passed, would have authorized same-sex marriages, subject to the approval of the diocesan bishop. TEC enacted a similar measure at its 2015 General Convention. Last year’s vote eliminated the bishop’s veto power.

The resolution in Canada had been amended earlier in the day so that the canon’s preface would have acknowledged that “faithful members of the Anglican Church of Canada have different understandings and teachings about the nature of marriage.” The amendment to the canon’s preface also encouraged mutual respect for the integrity of the convictions of all in these contentious matters

A second amendment to the resolution aimed to secure a degree of autonomy in the matter for Indigenous communities, who have been particularly vocal in their criticism of the proposed marriage changes. It stated that General Synod “recognizes that Indigenous communities have particular understandings about the nature of marriage as well as their own ways of making decisions.”  It also acknowledged that Indigenous people “will continue to discern whether same-sex marriage would be acceptable in their communities.”

The vote came a day after Archbishop Hiltz offered an extended apology to Indigenous communities for “spiritual abuse” by church leaders in the past.  After his emotional confession of the church’s sins, Hiltz urged the establishment of a committee to guide the Anglican Church of Canada’s work for “truth, justice, and reconciliation,” taking responsibility for “enabling healing for all who were deeply hurt by spiritual arrogance; helping the whole Church to learn from the spiritual wisdom of the elders and to listen with a heart to the spiritual hopes of Indigenous young people.”

The vote also followed a three and a half hour session designed to facilitate compassionate and respectful conversation across serious ideological divisions.  The presenters of the workshop on “being a synod” were Bishop Lynn McNaughton of Kootenay and Native American scholar, priest and psychologist Martin Brokenleg.  They acknowledged an intention to set a new course for the synod after the acrimony that marked its 2016 same-sex marriage debates

“During the General Synod in 2016, dialogue and decision-making were not done very well,” Brokenleg said to the delegates.  “In fact, portions of that synod were so contentious that our church leaders were embarrassed, many people were wounded and several people I know were so deeply disturbed by what they saw that they have since left the Anglican church. This leaves us with the task of setting the right course for ourselves.”

In the runup to General Synod, Covenant, TLC’s blog, published a series of nine essays by bishops, priests and scholars, examining the same-sex marriage issue and its implications for the ACoC.

This article incorporates material from the Anglican Journal, which is closely covering General Synod.


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