TORONTO – Several Anglican bishops said Tuesday that they planned to go ahead with same-sex marriages even though the church’s legislative body failed to authorize such unions following a highly charged and divisive debate.
In a series of statements, the bishops expressed dismay that a resolution to change church law had failed by the narrowest of margins.
At the same time, they leaned on a statement from the chancellor of the General Synod, who said the current marriage canon does not specifically ban solemnizing same-sex marriages.
In a statement, Bishop John Chapman of Ottawa said he planned to proceed immediately with such unions in his diocese – although no one would be forced to officiate at such a ceremony.
“It is time my friends,” Chapman said. “It is past time.”
“Take heart,” said Rev. Melissa Skelton, bishop of New Westminster, B.C. “This is not over.”
Late Monday evening, a resolution in favour of same-sex marriage failed to pass by a single vote at the six-day General Synod north of Toronto, even though about 68 per cent of those voting were in favour. The close result – which caused momentary confusion as to whether the motion had passed or not – stunned those on hand into silence. Some wept openly, others embraced. Some were clearly in anguish.
Eliot Waddingham, 24, a transgender person from Ottawa who was an observer, said it was “unpleasant and awful” the resolution failed to pass but also took solace in the rule that does not prohibit same-sex unions and that some bishops would go ahead regardless.
“It’s a bit of a loophole situation, and obviously a lot of people are going to be upset. But people on my side remain hopeful,” Waddingham said.
“What we wanted, generally, was to be more open about affirming this. We were unable to do that.”
Northern representatives complained about feeling bullied, while Larry Robertson, Yukon bishop, left the floor in protest, saying he was angered at what he called the adversarial process.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the church’s primate, acknowledged the “deep differences” that exist around the issue.
“We sometimes find ourselves very much being pulled apart,” he told delegates on Tuesday. “Our work on this matter is not done. It’s not sufficient for us to simply say we dealt with the resolution.”
While some fretted that the failure of the resolution would cause a rupture in the church and spark an exodus of members, others said they believed the church would hold together despite the bruising nature of the debate in which some used terms such as “abomination” in reference to the LBGT community.
“It was a painful process, it was a difficult process, but at the end of the day, we’ve ended up moving forward,” British Columbia Bishop Logan McMenamie said Tuesday.
Synod delegates did approve a motion affirming the sanctity of same-sex relationships – a position the church adopted in 2004.
Toronto Archbishop Colin Johnson called same-sex marriages – at the discretion of the bishop and with agreement of local clergy _ a logical step in the evolution of the church that he said he would be considering in the coming weeks.
“I am advised that this option would not contravene the marriage canon,” Johnson said. “I am confident it would be supported by the majority – even if not all – of our bishops, clergy, laity and the wider community.”
About 1.6 million Canadians identify themselves as Anglican, according to Statistics Canada, and church figures indicate more than 500,000 of them are part of about 2,800 congregations across the country.