The blessing of civil marriage between same-gender couples can now take place in the Anglican diocese of British Columbia.On Jan. 3, British Columbia Bishop James Cowan announced that he has authorized the blessing of same-sex unions in response to a request made by the diocesan synod in March of 2010.
By a majority vote of about 95 per cent, the synod requested that the bishop “…grant permission for clergy whose conscience permits to bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples, where one party is baptized…”
The decision to permit same-sex blessings in the diocese of British Columbia took effect Jan. 1, 2013. Blessings will be governed by a number of guidelines and will only be granted in parishes “where a majority decision of Vestry requests such a status from the bishop.” The parish must also make its request to the bishop in writing, and such request must be renewed each time a new incumbent is appointed and takes office.
In a letter sent to parishes, Bishop Cowan expressed the hope that “the model of respect and unity” that characterized discussions around human sexuality at the 2010 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada will follow implementation of the new guidelines.
Cowan urged respect for those clergy “who in conscience cannot participate in the blessing of same-sex unions.” And he expressed the hope that individuals would use a blessing “…as an aid in their growth in Christ and His love for the world in which we live.”
In his guidelines, Cowan emphasized that a blessing should not be construed as a solemnization of matrimony in the church. “The Anglican Church of Canada does not recognize as marriage civil contracts between persons of the same gender,” he wrote.
“Therefore, permission to bless same-sex unions between persons who have been participants in duly ‘solemnized and registered civil marriages,’ is not at this time an ecclesiastical recognition of those civil marriages, nor is the blessing given to people in these circumstances a ‘nuptial’ blessing.”
The guidelines also state that:
· Only incumbents of parishes where permission for blessings is granted will be given permission to bless “duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples, where one party is baptized.” The incumbent must make his request to the bishop in writing, and must be renewed each time he/she moves within the diocese.
· Clergy who are not incumbents (deacons, retired bishops or archbishops, assistant priests, assistant curates, honorary assistants, clergy “on leave,” retired clergy of the diocese or those living in the diocese) will not be considered for nor granted permission to perform same-sex blessings.
· No member of the diocese, lay or ordained, shall be required to act against their conscience on the matter of same-sex blessings.
Cowan has authorized the blessing rite of the diocese of New Westminster for use in his diocese.
With the addition of British Columbia, there are now 11 dioceses offering same-sex blessings in varying degrees within the Anglican Church of Canada. The other dioceses are New Westminster, Ottawa, Huron, Niagara, Toronto, Montreal, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Edmonton, Rupert’s Land and Quebec. The Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) also passed a motion asking its bishop to allow clergy “whose conscience permits” to bless same-sex unions.