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More Canadian Anglican Clergy May Now Bless Same-Sex Nuptials

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 31, 2011
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More Anglican parishes in Canada may now bless same-sex nuptials, although clergy may not actually perform wedding rites for gay and lesbian families who are entering into marriage, CBC News reported on May 30.

"A blessing can only be given to couples who are legally married. It’s up to each priest and parish to decide whether to give it," the CBC article noted.

The newly granted latitude to bless same-sex spouses was given to Anglicans in Nova Scotia and on Prince Edward Island, following a decision made at the 143rd Synod of the diocese that includes those areas of Canada. The decision follows a similar one that gave Anglicans in Saskatoon the ability to bless same-sex wedded couples.

Canadian newspaper the Chronicle Herald reported on the synod’s decision in a May 29 article. In excess of 300 participants were at the synod, and when the motion was made to allow clerics to bless same-sex spouses, the "overwhelming majority" approved it, the article said. One attendee "left the event in disgust," added the newspaper.

"It’s a contentious issue and it will continue to be," said Rev. David Fletcher told the press, going on to say that the church should also bless unmarried couples.

"They might prefer not to get legally married for a variety of reasons but would still like to have their long-term and committed relationship recognized by the church in the form of a sacramental blessing," noted Fletcher.

Civil marriage equality has been Canadian law since 2005.

"It’s not a case where we have asked our congregations to take a vote and say, ’Do you agree with this or don’t agree with this?’" said Rev. Paul Smith of Halifax’s All Saints Cathedral. "We have taken a slower, more pastoral approach which is, ’Let’s talk about this.’ "

"I agree with what they’ve decided because I think everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation," one All Saints parishioner told the press. Others disagreed.

"For me personally as a Christian, I can’t agree with them even considering that just because of the word of God," a second churchgoer said.

The issue has roiled the global fellowship of the Anglican Communion, straining long-standing cracks in the denomination that started decades ago over the issue of women clerics and worsened with the ordination of an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire in 2003.

As a result, the threat of schism has loomed over the global church for years, with anti-gay elements of the Anglican faith breaking away in North America to form a new Anglican tradition while hardliners in other countries--most notably Africa--call upon the mainstream North American branch of the faith to "repent."

The North American church did suspend appointments to the status of bishop for gay clerics for a time, but that period ended with the elevation of a lesbian, Mary Glasspool, to suffragan bishop in Los Angeles last year.

The head of the Anglican faith, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has attempted to keep the peace between the two sides. Last September, Williams said that gay clergy should not be barred from serving as bishops as long as long as they remain celibate.

"To put it very simply, there’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop," Williams told The Times of London. "It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there’s always a question about the personal life of the clergy."

Williams has trod a somewhat winding path with respect to the question of gays being allowed to serve in clerical positions in the church. Williams is one of the faith’s liberals, having supported equality in the church for gays and lesbians in the past. But for a time, Williams’ speeches tacked rightward as he sought to reassure hardliners for whom no compromise is acceptable. For that rightward swerve, Williams offered his apologies in a Feb. 9, 2010, speech to the faith’s General Synod.

"There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them," Williams told the Synod. "I have been criticized for doing just this and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression."

Williams spoke of the church’s "sacrificial and exemplary priests," among whom are gay men, and also noted that the faith has many gay and lesbian adherents. But the archbishop did not abandon his attempts to keep the church intact, appealing to anti-gay hardliners to soften their stance and suggesting that the faith might adopt a "two-tiered" system that would relegate some dioceses to less than fully participating status.

"It may be that the covenant creates a situation in which there are different levels of relationship between those claiming the name of Anglican," Williams told the Synod, which is the church’s legislative body. "I don’t at all want or relish this, but suspect that, without a major change of heart all round, it may be an unavoidable aspect of limiting the damage we are already doing to ourselves."

The archbishop had words for all sides in the debate, lamenting what he called "the reduction of Christian relationships to vicious polemic and stony-faced litigation" as the argument over gays and women has continued.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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