The diocese of Huron’s annual synod, or governing convention, voted on May 26 to ask the bishop to give clergy permission to bless same-sex marriages, “where at least one party is baptized” and to authorize an appropriate rite.
The margin in favour was 72 per cent in both clergy and lay houses (97 clergy in favour, 36 against; 227 lay people in favour, 87 against).
The diocesan bishop, Bruce Howe, said he “gave concurrence” to the motion based on the large percentage in favour, but he added that he intended to consult with other bishops before acting on the vote.
His ruling is in line with the bishops of the dioceses of Niagara, Montreal and Ottawa, that have held similar votes since the June 2007 meeting of General Synod. It was the first time the issue had come before the Huron synod. The diocese of New Westminster has allowed blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples since 2002; the diocese of Saskatoon rejected such a measure earlier this year.
Debate on the motion took two hours, with some 60 members speaking to the motion.
Speaking to media after the vote, Bishop Howe said he would likely not announce his decision before the fall.
“The diocese made a very strong decision – over the 70 per cent mark … I’ll be on the phone this week with other bishops, but obviously nobody is going to do anything before the Lambeth Conference.” The conference is a decennial meeting in England of the world’s Anglican bishops and other Canadian bishops have said they want to consult with colleagues at the conference, which will be held July 16 to August 3.
Rev. Greg Little, who presented the motion at the Huron synod, said “the story of God’s people is ever-expanding inclusion,” and noted that the Canadian General Synod decided that the blessing of same-sex unions does not contravene core Anglican doctrine.
However, Dennis Handy of Sarnia during debate, noted that “General Synod was conflicted,” since it also declined to affirm the power of dioceses to offer same-sex blessings. He moved to table the matter, but that motion was defeated.
Rev. Ross Gill of Kitchener said “General Synod hasn’t changed the marriage canon (church law) and if synod passes the motion, “we will have acquiesced to the nation’s definition of marriage before our church has looked at it.” (The 2007 General Synod asked for a review of the marriage canon, which currently limits the sacrament to male-female couples, before the 2010 meeting.)
Archdeacon Lorne Mitchell, who said he had changed his views on the subject over the past 25 years, said homosexual orientation is in-born and “not a disease that needs to be cured.” He added that he has “come to believe that there is no relevant scriptural reason, nor is there any compelling theological argument against this motion…the Holy Spirit is giving us a chance to grow up.”
Cathy Knight of Windsor said there are “seven verses in the Bible in which God said homosexual behaviour – not homosexual orientation – is sinful.”
Others said moving ahead on the issue would cause further dissension in the worldwide Anglican Communion, but Tom Patterson of Stratford said “if we waited for unity, we would not have the leadership of women” as priests in the church. (The Canadian church has ordained women since 1976, but some Anglican provinces do not.)
Bishop Howe said he did not know of any parishes or clergy that planned to leave the Anglican Church of Canada because of synod’s decision. No parishes in Huron are members of the Anglican Network in Canada, a breakaway group. “One of our conservative parishes said to me, ‘We don’t like this, but we are not leaving the Anglican Church in the diocese of Huron,'” he said.
(Editor’s Note: A correction has been made to the eleventh paragraph of this story.)