Bishop Tutu not to endorse gay marriage, prefers 'blessing unions'

Former South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, spoke of equality for gays and lesbians, but stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriage.

At an honorary degree ceremony held in one of Vancouver's oldest Churches, the Nobel laureate told the crowd on Tuesday that God draws in all races and groups, including "gay, lesbian, so-called straight."

Asked outside the church on his position on same-sex marriage, Tutu, an Anglican, said he ``would prefer we didn't call it marriage.

"It just causes a lot of hassles. If you say you are blessing a union, I would prefer that. You just raise unnecessary hassles."

The Dalai Lama, in Vancouver for a series of events with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners Tutu and Shirin Ebadi, said the issue of same-sex marriage should be up to local governments.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader did not state his personal opinion on the matter when asked at press conference wrapping up his four-day visit.

"That (is) up to local law, country's law," he said.

The Dalai Lama travels next to Ottawa, where he will meet with Prime Minister, Paul Martin.

Courts in three Canadian provinces - Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, which contain some 70 per cent of Canada's 32 million people - have approved gay marriage. The federal government is preparing legislation to allow it across the country, likely next year.

The issue of same-sex blessings has split the local Anglican diocese in the Vancouver area and sparked an international religious debate.

The bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, accepted a diocese vote in 2002 to allow its Churches to bless same-sex unions. The move prompted some conservative parishes to ask for a bishop other than Ingham to oversee their congregations.

Four top Anglican leaders from Africa and Asia have lent their support to the conservatives.

Outside the Church Tuesday, Ingham said Tutu is "very familiar with the situation here and he has expressed his support to me on a number of occasions."

The Anglicans also have been split over the approval by the US branch, the Episcopal Church, of an openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.