Canada Anglicans Sideline Gay Blessings

Winnipeg, Canada - Canada's Anglicans narrowly voted Sunday against letting priests bless same-sex marriages, but they also agreed the blessings do not conflict with their church's core doctrine, a step opposing sides agreed opens the door to such ceremonies in the future.

The moves by the Anglican Church of Canada came at a time when divisions over the Bible and homosexuality are roiling the world Anglican fellowship.

The resolution that failed would have given individual dioceses the option of letting their priests perform blessing ceremonies for gay couples who have already married in civil ceremonies. It would not have allowed priests to actually marry same-sex couples. Civil marriages for gay couples have been legal in Canada since 2004.

The resolution required a majority rule in three orders _ the laity, clergy and bishops. It failed only in the order of bishops, which voted 21-19 against it.

"There is no question that there was a lot of disappointment on the part of some people and a lot of pain, and some people will be saying, 'How long, oh Lord, how long will this conversation continue?' And it will continue," said Bishop Fred Hiltz, who was elected to lead the Anglican Church on Friday and voted for the resolution.

Gay rights activists, however, took solace in an earlier vote Sunday, in which the Anglicans agreed that same-sex blessings do not conflict with the church's core doctrine. In that vote, the clergy and the laity were combined and voted 152-92 in favor; the bishops voted 21-19 in favor.

"We now have theological agreement that same-sex unions are not in opposition to doctrine and that's a big deal," said Chris Ambidge, president of the Toronto chapter of gay advocacy group Integrity. "However, it's just a 75 percent win because there's no pastoral benefit to gay and lesbians with what has happened today. The church approved things in principle, but said we're not going to do anything about it."

Conservative members of the church were less positive about the results, which were taken at the Canadian church's triennial general synod, or governing parliament, held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"This day is a sad day for us because the foundation has been laid in the motion this morning to move the issue forward," said Rev. Canon Charlie Masters, head of the conservative Canadian group Anglican Essentials.

Bishops who voted against allowing priests to perform the blessings told synod delegates that a yes vote would have violated the oath Anglican priests take on ordination to remain in communion with "the Church of England throughout the world."

The 77-million member Anglican Communion, Christianity's third largest denomination, traces its roots to the Church of England. Most of the world's Anglicans are theological conservatives who believe gay relationships violate Scripture. More liberal Anglicans emphasize social justice teachings in the Bible, leading them to support full acceptance of same-sex couples.

Even before this week's Canadian meeting, the world Anglican Communion was already in an uproar over the U.S. Episcopal Church's 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the United States.

Anglican leaders have given the U.S. denomination until Sept. 30 to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples. If Episcopalians fail to agree, they risk losing their full membership in the communion.

Separately, the Anglican Church of Canada, which has 2 million members, came under fire in 2002 after Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia allowed parishes in his region to bless gay couples.

In 2004, the Diocese of Niagara voted to follow suit, but its bishop has barred the ceremonies for now.