TORONTO – A passionate debate on whether Anglicans should bless same-sex marriages came to a head Monday when delegates to their triennial conference narrowly voted against authorizing such unions.
The vote by General Synod 2016, which followed complaints of bullying and intimidation, sparked bitter disappointment among some members.
“It is breaking my heart that there are people who see gay marriage as a separation from God and from love,” said Eliot Waddingham, 24, a transgender person from Ottawa who was an observer.
The vote, she worried, was tantamount to a “death sentence” for the church.
More than 200 delegates to the six-day synod just north of Toronto rejected the resolution after speakers lined up to make their points, with most speaking in favour of the resolution.
Archbishop Colin Johnson of Toronto cited his own decades of marriage in arguing in support of the motion.
“I want my gay and lesbian colleagues to have the same joy,” Johnson said. “I believe it’s the right thing to do.”
One lesbian, in pleading for adoption of the resolution, said “many of us” had killed themselves because “death was better than being rejected by God.”
However, other speakers urged delegates to reject the idea of same-sex marriage, with one saying it would cause “ghettoes of resentment” if allowed, while several aboriginal delegates denounced the resolution as condoning an “abomination” and disobedience of God.
“God did not create another Adam,” said one young speaker. “He created a woman.”
The vote was the culmination of three years of work that began when the last General Synod, the church’s legislative body, asked a panel to come up with the draft motion. Even if it had passed, the decision would still have needed to be affirmed by the next General Synod in 2019, which could have made its own amendments
Before the main vote, delegates voted to amend what would have been an opt-out clause for those opposed to same-sex marriage on principle to instead give bishops authority to allow such marriages in each diocese.
The complaints about bullying emerged during weekend discussions on the resolution in smaller working groups. In remarks ahead of the vote, Archbishop Fred Hiltz urged respectful discussions on a topic that has proven bitterly divisive.
“Some members of our synod are deeply hurt. Some of them are deeply offended. Some are feeling unsafe to continue to speak lest they be reprimanded,” Hiltz told the gathering. “This kind of behaviour is not appropriate. It’s unacceptable.”
To pass, the resolution to change the church’s marriage canon required two-thirds of the delegates to vote yes in each of three orders — lay, clergy and bishops. The bishops’ group had indicated in February that the threshold would likely not be met. Indigenous bishops had also said they would resist having “Western cultural approaches” imposed on them.
The resolution failed to pass because the order or clergy failed narrowly to get the required two-thirds majority while the other two houses, laity and bishops, voted narrowly in favour.
The electronic voting was essentially conducted secretly at the request of delegates as a privacy measure.
Before the vote, Hiltz told delegates their decision would have consequences for the country’s third-largest church.
“There may be people who feel compelled to leave our church,” Hiltz said. “That’s the gravity and the weight of the situation that is before us.”
Another delegate, Stephen Warner, said he wasn’t surprised to hear the complaints of intimidation given that every member was given a “bully pulpit” during the small group chats as the issue comes to a head.
“This is my seventh synod overall over five years,” said Warner, 20, of Toronto. “I’ve never seen a more tense and dour environment.”
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.