The General Synod of the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil – the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (IEAB) has approved changes to its canons to permit same-sex marriages. Civil same-sex marriages have been legal in Brazil since 2012.
The decision would not require liturgical changes, the IEAB said in a statement, because gender neutral language had already been introduced into its service for the solemnization of marriage in the 2015 Book of Common Prayer.
The move was overwhelmingly carried by the Synod members with 57 voting in favour and three against; there were two abstentions.
“Canonical changes were approved in an environment filled by the Holy Spirit and with mutual love and respect,” the IEAB said in a statement. “It was preceded by long, deep and spiritual dialogue. This dialogue formally started in 1997, but had been going on much earlier, and reached the whole Province since then through indabas, conferences, consultations, prayers, biblical and theological publications.”
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Mark Strange, and the Bishop of Huron from the Anglican Church of Canada, Linda Nichols, were amongst international guests present at the meeting.
“We affirm our commitment with the Gospel of Jesus and our belonging to the Anglican global family,” the Province’s statement said. “We also hope to keep walking together with those who disagree with us as we discern how to better respond to the challenges ahead of us in our contexts.”
The outgoing primate of the IEAB, Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, said: “I felt the decision was a result of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. This widens our boundaries, allowing us to be more welcoming to the diversity of people in our country.
The church’s provincial secretary, Arthur Cavalcante, who is himself in a same-sex civil union, said: “I feel proud to witness this historic day for the Church of Brazil, which is also the day we celebrate IEAB’s 128th anniversary. We stand as a lighthouse at a time this country and the world faces so many difficulties, such as religious fundamentalism and intolerance. I finish my term as provincial secretary feeling completely overwhelmed.”
Responding to the decision, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said: “The churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make their own decisions on canon law. The Episcopal Church of Brazil is one of 39 Anglican provinces covering more than 165 countries around the world.
“I understand that this is the third time that the issue has been discussed by the Synod of the IEAB and so its decision to approve changes to canon law on marriage is not a surprise.”
Idowu-Fearon acknowledged that “there are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion but this decision puts the Episcopal Church of Brazil at odds with the majority position that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.” He added: “This is a move away from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage. The Anglican Communion’s position on human sexuality is set out in Resolution I.10 agreed at the Lambeth conference of 1998 and will remain so unless it is revoked.”
He expressed a “deep desire to see the churches of the Anglican Communion remain committed to walking together in the love of Christ in spite of deeply-held differences and to work out how to maintain unity and uphold the value of every individual. It is important to stress the Communion’s strong opposition to the criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people.”
Brazil becomes the third Anglican province to change its canons to permit same-sex marriage. The US-based Episcopal Church was first to authorise same-sex marriages in the church in 2015. At their meeting and gathering in Canterbury in 2016, the primates of the Anglican Communion described the move as “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage.”
Despite the “further deep pain throughout our Communion” caused by the move, the primates said that “it is our unanimous desire to walk together.”However, they added: “given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
The second Province to amend its canons to permit same-sex marriage was the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) in June last year. When the primates met in Canterbury last October, the primus of the SEC, Mark Strange, said that the decision “was ours to take as a self-governing province of the Anglican Communion.”
He added: “However, I recognise that this decision is one that has caused some hurt and anger in parts of the Anglican Communion and that the decision taken at the last Primates’ Meeting, which was to exclude our brothers and sisters in the [US-based] Episcopal Church from debate on doctrine and from chairing Anglican Communion committees, is a decision that now also pertains to us.”
In a narrow vote in July 2016, the Anglican Church of Canada voted to amend its canons to permit same sex marriage. Under its constitutional rules concerning matters of doctrine, the 2016 vote does not take effect unless it is carried again when its General Synod meets again in 2019.
Last month, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia agreed with moves to retain its doctrinal position on marriage but said it would now allow priests in New Zealand to conduct blessing of same-sex civil unions. The move was seen by many as a compromise position and was put forward by a group established to ensure that people with different convictions on issue of sexuality could remain in the church.
In their January 2016 meeting, the primates asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a task group “to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”
The task group continues to meet. One of the proposals to emerge from its work is for “a season of repentance and prayer across the Anglican Communion” from Pentecost 2019.