The final meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada’s commission on the marriage canon took place at the national office in Toronto on Friday, August 21.
Since its first meeting in April 2014, the commission has been engaged in a broad and diverse consultation on the feasibility of changing Canon 21-the church’s law on marriage-to allow same-sex unions.
“We’re very close to completing the text of the report,” said commission member Bishop Linda Nicholls of the Trent-Durham area in the diocese of Toronto. “We’re doing the final editing and formatting.”
This is the commission’s fourth face-to-face meeting, “but there have been numerous e-mail conference calls,” Nicholls said.
The largest section of the roughly 50-page report will be devoted to biblical and theological reflection on the feasibility of Anglican same-sex marriage. The report will also address other components spelled out in General Synod 2013’s original mandating resolution on the marriage of same-sex couples. These include the wording of any amendment to Canon 21 permitting same-sex marriage, the terms of reference of the Solemn Declaration of 1893, which created the Anglican Church of Canada, and legal aspects of a conscience clause protecting bishops, dioceses, clergy and congregations from being constrained to authorize or participate in such marriages against the dictates of conscience.
The commission’s final report will be submitted to a special session of Council of General Synod (CoGS) scheduled September 22-23.
“I hope readers of the report will remember that our task was to do the work that was asked for in the original resolution,” Nicholls said. “And not to decide for the church whether we should do this but to provide the background to see whether it is possible…”
In July 2013, General Synod-the church’s governing body-passed Resolution C003, which will bring a motion concerning same-sex marriage to its next meeting in 2016. The resolution asked CoGS to prepare and present a motion to change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.”
The resolution asked that this motion 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.”
It also set additional criteria contained in amendments introduced by diocese of Algoma Bishop Stephen Andrews and Dean Peter Elliott, diocese of New Westminster. The amendments, approved by a vote, stated that the 2016 motion should include supporting documentation that:
- “demonstrates broad consultation in its preparation;
- explains how this motion does not contravene the Solemn Declaration;
- confirms immunity under civil law and the Human Rights Code for those bishops, dioceses and priests who refuse to participate in or authorize the marriage of same-sex couples on the basis of conscience; and
- provides a biblical and theological rationale for this change in teaching on the nature of Christian marriage.”