The Anglican Church of Canada voted down a same-gender marriage amendment last Friday, July 12, preventing the policy from being added to national laws.
The proposal was rejected by a narrow margin at the church’s General Synod, a meeting held every three years.
Now priests and bishops from around the country and the region are voicing their discontent with the decision.
“There was, as you might imagine, there was a lot of hurt when it failed,” said Rev. Yme Woensdregt, priest of Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook.
The vote required a two-thirds majority in all three “houses” to pass and it didn’t get it. The House of Laity voted 81 per cent to approve it, the House of Priests voted 72 per cent to approve it, but the House of Bishops voted 62 per cent. So even though the majority of Bishops were in favour of it passing, it still failed as it didn’t meet the two-thirds majority and the entire proposal failed.
“It really was [disappointing] and there was a lot of pain and a lot of hurt around that,” Woensdregt said. “So after all of that happened, the bishops met for hours after the vote and they issued an apology for what happened.”
The statement from the Bishops begins as follows:
“We, members of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, see the pain and anguish inflicted on LGBTQ2S+ people, on members of the General Synod, across the Church, and in the world, as a result of the work and the vote on the matter of Canon 21, concerning marriage. We see your tears, we hear your cries, and we weep with you. We have caused deep hurt. We are profoundly sorry.”
Furthermore, a document entitled “A word to the Church: Considering the proposed amendment of Marriage Canon XXI” was also issued by the Council of General Synod in March, 2019. CoGS is the body which continues the work of General Synod between its triennial meetings.
This document, approved by General Synod with a vote of 85 per cent, contains five affirmations. The first acknowledges that Indigenous communities have the right to do things differently from settler dioceses.
The second acknowledges that there are diverse understandings of the existing Marriage Canon and the third acknowledges the “ongoing reality that there is a diversity of understandings and teachings about marriage in the Anglican Church.”
The fourth commits to presuming good faith among those who hold diverse understandings and teachings and the final affirmation commits to “standing together.”
Rev. Dr. Lynne McNaughton, elected as Bishop to the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay, to which Cranbrook belongs, earlier this year, will also be issuing a joint statement with other bishops who have affirmed all of this. Additionally, she will be going ahead to authorize same-gender marriage within the Diocese of the Kootenay.
“So essentially what’s happened is something that we Anglicans call local option,” Woensdregt explained. “Each diocese, each bishop, will be able to decide for his or her diocese whether to move ahead or not.”
Woensdregt added that he is glad the bishop of the diocese here is “solidly on board with same gender marriage.” McNaughton has been actively involved in the work of moving the church’s conversation forward on same-sex marriage throughout her career.
“LGBTQ people did not choose their sexuality just as I didn’t choose to be heterosexual and the gifts of the church are available to all people.”
While some dioceses, like Kootenay, have bishops that will decide to bless same-gender marriages, it is far from the ideal situation the majority of Anglicans across Canada have been hoping and praying for.
“We happen to have a bishop who is solidly on board with same-gender marriage and she’s going to go ahead with it, but there are other places where the bishop is solidly opposed and LGBTQ people won’t be able to get married in those dioceses. So it’s not a perfect solution because there are places where it can’t happen, but it’s probably the best we can hope for at this time.”
When asked if he believes this amendment could go through at the next General Synod in another three years’ time, Woensdregt is not hopeful.
“I think the church is just tired, we’ve been dealing with this now for the last nine years,” Woensdregt said. “And the church is tired of talking about this and I don’t think there’s going to be any movement on the part of those bishops who are opposed.”
However, there may be hope for the system that allows a vote like this to happen itself to change. Woensdregt says there is some talk of revisiting how the Synod approaches these sorts of votes.
He explained that one of the things that played into this particular vote is that every bishop was able to vote as a member of the House of Bishops. The problem is, there are some dioceses, such as the Arctic notably, where they have one Diocesan Bishop and then three suffragan, or “junior” Bishops.
Woesndregt said that the Bishop of the Arctic is “utterly opposed” to same-gender marriage amendment, and that there are some in the church who believe he may have put those three suffragan bishops in place to “stack the deck.”
“So there is talk of re-jigging it so that only one bishop from each diocese gets a vote. Because you’ve got the same kind of thing now where the arctic with a dozen Anglicans has the same as or more votes than Toronto with thousands of Anglicans. And so people are looking at that and saying there’s something wrong with this system.”