Richmond Hill, Ont.
In a stunning reversal, a recount of the vote to allow same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada showed that while the motion was originally reported to have failed by one vote in the order of clergy, it had, in fact, passed by one vote there.
As a roomful of Anglicans from across Canada watched in surprise, hope and, in some cases, shock, a decision that had already caused a great deal of controversy in the past 24 hours was shown never to have been made in the first place.
The Monday evening vote to change the marriage canon had been a surprise for many. While it was popularly expected to be close, given that a two-thirds majority was needed in each of the Orders of Laity, Clergy and Bishops, the assumption had been that it would come down to the bishops.
In fact, the motion appeared to have been scuttled by the Order of Clergy, with the vote originally recording 51 of 77 clergy in favour of changing the marriage canon.
As it turned out, this number did not include the vote of Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of General Synod. With Thompson’s vote counted, it became 52 of 78 in favour, nudging the vote above the required threshold of a two-thirds majority.
The error was caused by the electronic clickers used in voting, said General Synod Chancellor David Jones.
Because Thompson’s position as an officer automatically makes him a member of General Synod, Thompson was not listed as a member of his order (clergy) in the electronic database, as would happen with any other delegate. Because he was not registered as a member of the clergy, the program that tabulated the results did not include his vote in the votes cast by members of the clergy.
This was discovered when Canon Kevin Robertson, of the diocese of Toronto, brought a motion to the floor of synod on Tuesday afternoon calling for the list of how each member had voted on the marriage canon to be made public . (It had been decided that this information would be recorded during the legislative session leading up to the vote.)
After the motion passed and the information was made public, the votes were recounted and it was discovered that Thompson’s had not been included in the numbers for the Order of Clergy.
Thompson was not the only victim of reported irregularities: Archdeacon Pierre Voyer, of the diocese of Quebec, the Rev. Danny Whitehead, of the Territory of the People, and Ruth Sheeran, of the diocese of Quebec-all of whom were in favour of changing the canon-came forward to say that their votes had not been recorded at all.
However, as Canon David Burrows of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador pointed out, even without the uncounted votes, the new total including Thompson’s vote-52 for, 26 against-was enough to change the outcome.
These facts were confirmed by Jones.
“We actually have a two-thirds majority vote in the Order of Clergy,” a somewhat dazed Archbishop Fred Hiltz announced to the house, which filled with a rumble of whispers.
Dean Peter Wall, of the diocese of Niagara, asked that the primate and his advisors simply declare the motion passed, at which point Hiltz reminded Wall and the rest of the house that the motion, being a question of doctrine, requires a vote in two consecutive meetings of General Synod in order to be passed.
Hiltz did, however, note that though it will not yet become canon law, it had passed its first reading.
At this point, Thompson spoke up to apologize for the error.
“The good order of General Synod is my responsibility as general secretary,” he said. “I want to apologize to the General Synod for the confusion that has been caused.”
After the change was announced, several members from the diocese of Caledonia, including Bishop William Anderson, walked out of the hall, followed shortly by a number of members from the Arctic, including Bishops David Parsons and Darren McCartney.
Given the time constraints, the primate indicated that synod business would continue as scheduled, with the next item being thanks extended to volunteers and staff at General Synod.
However, Bishop Rob Hardwick, of the diocese of Qu’Appelle, chastised the house for not extending the same sympathy and care to those who had opposed the motion to change the marriage canon in their moment of pain it had granted those who were in favour of it.
“Last night, as a diocese, we sat in this room until just about everyone left. As a diocese, we prayed for everyone who stayed in this room. I don’t see that same concern being shown to those who might be feeling pained, disappointed, shocked,” he said.
The Rev. Peter Boote, also from Qu’Appelle, joined his bishop to speak about another concern: the work that was done in conversation groups during Tuesday’s morning session on how synod could learn from the pain and difficulty of debates about the marriage canon to move toward less adversarial models of governance.
“My concern is that now this is passed, all of that work that was done this morning will be forgotten, and we won’t learn, and we will think that this is a good thing to do again,” he said. “I’m just concerned that we can actually learn from what we’ve put together this morning and use it to go forward.”
Hiltz assured him that the work done in the morning session would be sent to Council of General Synod and the House of Bishops for more intensive study.
The primate also apologized to Hardwick and anyone else who felt they had not been extended adequate care, in a much fuller apology in the hour that followed, during the closing worship service.
“I neglected to invite us into a time of silence before God and one another, and to remember those whose lives are in turmoil now, because of a different outcome,” he said, before inviting the gathering into two minutes of silent prayer and reflection.
“I need to say to synod, and particularly to those who feel that I was insensitive this afternoon, that I apologize, and I hope you will forgive me.”
Hiltz also noted that he would release a pastoral response to the whole church in the coming days.