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Anglican Communion body urges church not to change marriage policy

By André Forget on December, 19 2014

General Synod will decide whether to approve a motion to change the marriage canon when it meets in 2016. 


The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) has urged the Anglican Church of Canada not to amend its marriage canon (church law) to allow the marriage of same-sex couples, saying such a move would “cause great distress for the Communion as a whole, and for its ecumenical relationships.”

The IASCUFO’s statement came in response to a request from the Canadian church’s Commission on the Marriage Canon for an opinion about proposed changes to Canon 21 that would allow for same-sex marriages. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, decided IASCUFO would be the “most appropriate” body within the Communion to deal with such a question.

The Anglican Church of Canada has the prerogative “to address issues appropriate to its context,” the IASCUFO said, but it noted the ramifications of “a change of this magnitude” for the Communion and its ecumenical partners. In a letter addressed to Canon Robert Falby, chair of the marriage canon commission, IASCUFO members said they were unanimous “in urging you not to move beyond your present policy of ‘local option,’ ” which allows dioceses to choose whether or not they will offer same-sex blessings. They noted that the absence of a General Synod decision about the blessing of same-sex unions or same-sex marriages “has given space for the rebuilding of fragile relationships across the Communion.”

If the 2016 General Synod decides to approve a motion to change the marriage canon and it is approved on second reading by the 2019 General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada will become the first province in the Anglican Communion to allow same-sex marriage. The Episcopal Church, which in 2012 authorized “for trial use” a liturgy for blessing same-sex relationships, has no official provision for same-sex marriage. However, some bishops from states where same-sex marriage has been legalized have allowed clergy to perform same-sex marriages.

The marriage canon commission invited opinions about a proposed change to Canon 21 came after the 2013 General Synod enacted Resolution C003, which will bring a motion concerning same-sex marriage to its next triennial meeting in 2016. The resolution asked the Council of General Synod (CoGS)—the governing body between General Synods—to prepare and present a motion to change Canon 21 “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.” This motion would also include “a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.”

According to Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director for Unity, Faith and Order at the Communion Office, IASCUFO dealt with the request in one of its regular meetings. It gave members an opportunity to share their thoughts on the matter, which took over an hour, and then they took an extended break and returned to the question the next day, at which point people gave their responses. “The statement was created from those responses,” said Barnett-Cowan, “and we made very few changes. It went quite smoothly.”

When asked if this was the first time IASCUFO had explicitly asked a province not to do something, Barnett-Cowan said that it was, but explained that this was a somewhat “unique” situation for the commission, which is usually asked to give its opinion on more strictly ecumenical matters.

In its letter, signed by its vice-chair, Bishop Stephen Pickard, IASCUFO said that it was grateful that the Canadian church reached out and took the time to consult with other Anglicans and ecumenical partners, noting that this shows faithfulness to the principle outlined in the proposed Anglican Covenant that churches “consult with each other before taking any step which might be considered controversial.”

It added that IASCUFO’s membership is diverse, including “some who understand why this issue has arisen within the Anglican Church of Canada and are sympathetic with the intention,” some who are in similar positions and some “for whom the question of same-sex marriage is almost incomprehensible, let alone welcome.” Regardless, the statement said that the commission members were “unanimous” in their request. Barnett-Cowan stressed this in an interview with the Anglican Journal. “People came from very different places in terms of their personal views,” she said, “but that’s not what they were asked for.”

When asked what the repercussions might be if the Anglican Church of Canada allowed same-sex marriages, Barnett-Cowan noted that in the past when such questions have come up, some provinces have been “very concerned,” and went on to say that for some, “continued relationship with the Anglican Church would be difficult.”

In 2005, primates of the Anglican Communion had asked the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church to “voluntarily withdraw” from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) as a step toward restoring unity within the global church, which had been deeply fractured by the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster’s decision to allow same-sex blessings and The Episcopal Church’s ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has just returned from a meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in which the marriage commission was discussed, and in which, Hiltz said, for the sake of transparency, he provided Welby with the resolutions from General Synod and from CoGS around the proposed change to the marriage canon.  

Editor's note: Additional information has been added to the fourth paragraph of this story. 

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By André Forget| December, 19 2014

About the Author

André Forget

André Forget

André Forget joined the Anglican Journal in 2014 as staff writer and social media lead. He also serves as managing editor of Whether Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Winnipeg Review, and the Town Crier.

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