Chronology of the same-sex debate

Published March 26, 2008
This timeline, first published March 26, 2008, has been updated to include developments since then.
1975 – Integrity, a movement of gay and lesbian Anglicans, is established in Canada.

1976 – Canadian House of Bishops appoints task force to examine churchs pastoral response to the issue of homosexuality.

1978 – Lambeth Conference of bishops affirms heterosexuality as the scriptural norm but recognizes need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality.

1979 – House of Bishops issues first major statement on homosexuality, upholding that marriage is valid only between a man and a woman; says homosexual persons may be ordained, but must lead a celibate life.

1987 – New Westminster diocesan synod urges congregations to undertake study on sexuality.

1988 – International Lambeth Conference of bishops calls for further study of homosexuality.

1992 – General Synod holds open forum on sexuality; requests the House of Bishops and the National Executive Council (now the Council of General Synod) to commission a study of homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Diocesan synod of New Westminster asks House of Bishops to set same requirements for ordination for both heterosexual and homosexual persons.

1994 – Canadian Anglicans with conservative views on sexuality hold first Anglican Essentials Conference. Hearing Diverse Voices, Seeking Common Ground: A program of study on homosexuality and homosexual relationships is published by the Anglican Book Centre as a resource for parishes and groups.

1995 – House of Bishops establishes national listening process on human sexuality. General Synod affirms presence and contribution of gays and lesbians in the church.

1998 – Diocesan synod of New Westminster votes 179 to 170 asking the diocesan bishop, Michael Ingham, to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions. Bishop Ingham withholds his consent pending consultation with the wider church. Lambeth Conference passes two resolutions on sexuality, one, stating that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture, the other, encouraging dialogue with gays and lesbians.

1999 – Primates Meeting urges provinces to exercise caution and restraint in ordaining non-celibate homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions.

2000 – Diocesan synod of New Westminster approves motion asking bishop to authorize a rite to bless same-sex unions. Bishop Ingham again withholds consent.

2002 – New Westminster synod approves a motion asking Bishop Ingham to allow same-sex blessings. Lay and clergy delegates representing eight parishes walk out of synod before the bishop gives his consent. Bishop Ingham establishes conscience clause to ensure that no clergy or parish will be forced to perform blessings, and offers to invite a Canadian bishop to provide alternative episcopal care to those who request it. House of Bishops issues statement asking dioceses to refrain from any action on same-sex unions.

2003 – First blessing of same-sex unions takes place at St. Margarets Cedar Cottage, Vancouver, diocese of New Westminster.

Some bishops of the Anglican Communion declare broken communion with the diocese of New Westminster. Canadian House of Bishops establishes task force on alternative episcopal oversight for dissenting parishes in New Westminster. Episcopal Church in the United States elects Gene Robinson, a non-celibate gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire. Some U.S. parishes place themselves under the oversight of another province.

Archbishop of Canterbury establishes Eames Commission to seek ways of arresting schism in the Anglican Communion.

2004 – In the U.S., conservative dioceses and churches form the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, now called Anglican Communion Network. Months later, in Canada, Anglican Essentials announces plan to form a Network and Federation to provide pastoral care to disaffected conservative parishes.

Four primates offer alternative episcopal oversight to dissenting parishes in New Westminster; four parishes accept, leave the Canadian church and form the Anglican Coalition in Canada.

General Synod defers decision on whether gay relationships should be blessed by church, but passes resolution affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed, adult same-sex relationships. Synod asks primate to refer the issue to the Primates Theological Commission.

Eames Commission releases Windsor Report asking the Canadian and American churches to declare a moratorium on same-sex blessings and the election of gay bishops.

Diocese of Niagara synod passes resolution by a two-thirds majority asking the bishop to allow clergy to bless same-sex unions. The bishop withholds his consent.

2005 – Primates meet and ask Canadian and American churches to voluntarily withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council; also commit to neither encourage nor initiate cross-boundary interventions. Some primates refuse to attend the Eucharist at meeting; Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams comments that the Communion is broken.

Council of General Synod decides that Canadian delegates will attend but not participate at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, England.

Primates Theological Commission publishes the St. Michaels Report, stating that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine but not core doctrine.

House of Bishops agree neither to encourage nor initiate same-sex blessings until General Synod decides on the matter. Diocese of New Westminster imposes moratorium on allowing new parishes to permit same-sex blessings but to continue ceremonies in parishes that have received the bishops approval.

Canada legalizes gay marriage.

2006 – A panel formed by the Archbishop of Canterbury recommends that dissenting parishes in the diocese of New Westminster be granted alternative episcopal oversight, but asks them to resume contributions to diocese and work toward reconciliation.

Conservative primates meet in Rwanda, advocate creation of a separate ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Communion for dissenting churches in the U.S.

2007 – General Synod agrees that blessing rites for gay couples are not in conflict with core church doctrine, but refuses to affirm the authority of dioceses to offer them.

Dioceses of Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara approve similar motions requesting their bishops to allow same-sex blessings.

House of Bishops issues pastoral guidelines concerning church services for gay couples that stop short of blessings or marriage.

Two retired Canadian bishops?Donald Harvey and Malcolm Harding? relinquish their ministries in the Anglican Church of Canada to join the Anglican province of the Southern Cone.

The primate of the Southern Cone, Archbishop Gregory Venables, says his church will accept as members conservative Canadian Anglican churches that are in serious theological disputewith their dioceses or with the national church.

2008 – Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, clarifies in a letter to his fellow primates that the Canadian church has not altered its doctrine of marriage or decided on the issue of same-sex blessings.

Vestries of 10 churches in the dioceses of New Westminster, Niagara, British Columbia, Ottawa and Toronto vote to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and join the church of the Southern Cone.

Lambeth Conference ends with a commitment by bishops to remain together despite differences over sexuality and with wide agreement on moratoria for same-sex blessings, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate and cross-border interventions, reports Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The diocese of Hurons annual synod approves motion asking the bishop to grant clergy permission to bless same-sex marriages where at least one party is baptized and to authorize an appropriate rite.

Bishop of Montreal Barry Clarke announces that his diocese will prepare rite for blessing of same-gender couples who have been civilly married.

Bishop of Ottawa John Chapman seeks approval for same-sex blessings in his diocese.

Bishop of Niagara Michael Bird says he will follow in the footsteps of Bishops Chapman and Clarke.

Bishops of the diocese of Toronto propose that a limited number of parishes be given episcopal permission to offer prayers and blessing but not the nuptial blessing to same-sex couples in stable, long-term, committed relationships.

Saskatoon diocesan synod votes against same-sex blessings.

Arctic synod says same-sex blessing votes hurt church unity.

2009 – As of Sept. 1, the diocese of Niagara allows its priests to bless same-gender couples who have been civilly married. It becomes the second diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada, after the Vancouver-based New Westminster, to offer a sacrament for same-sex blessings.

Bishop Robert Bennett of the diocese of Huron asks committee to begin to develop liturgies for a celebratory Eucharist and prayers for same-gender couples; the service will not provide a nuptial blessing

Bishop John Chapman gives one church in the diocese of Ottawa (Church of St. John the Evangelist) permission to begin offering a rite of blessing to same-sex couples who are civilly married.

2010General Synod meeting in Halifax does not approve so-called local option allowing dioceses to grant same-sex blessings. But it recognizes that the local option has been exercised by some dioceses and may be used in the future without the approval of the national church.

Diocese of Montreal allows priests to bless same-gender couples who have been civilly married.

2011Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island synod approves blessing of civil marriages between same-sex couples.

2012 – Diocese of Edmonton synod passes motion allowing clergy to bless civilly married same-gender couples on a case-by-case basis. Clergy to ask for bishops permission to offer the blessing. This differs from decisions in some dioceses where designated parishes have been granted permission to offer blessings carte blanche.

The blessing of civil marriages between same-gender couples is approved in diocese of Ruperts Land.

Quebec becomes the 10th diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada to offer same-sex blessings. The others include New Westminster, Ottawa, Huron, Niagara, Toronto, Montreal, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Edmonton and Ruperts Land. The Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) passes motion asking its bishop to allow clergy whose conscience permits to bless same-sex unions.

A third of the Anglican Church of Canadas 30 dioceses now have moved forward with same-sex blessings.

2013 British Columbia Bishop James Cowan announces that he has authorized the blessing of same-sex unions in response to a request made by the diocesan synod in March 2010.

General Synod approves a resolution that will bring the issue of same-sex marriage to a vote at the meeting of the Anglican Church of Canadas governing body in 2016.

Council of General Synod approves a motion to establish a Commission on the Marriage Canon, as directed by the 2013 General Synod, which will carry out a broad consultation about changing the marriage canon (church law) to allow same-sex marriage.

Commission members are appointed and begin work

2015Commission on the Marriage Canon submits report in September saying that the church may want to look at same-sex marriages as partaking in the same covenant as heterosexual unions, but on somewhat different terms, and possibly involving alternate liturgies.

The Episcopal Church approves same-sex marriage, becoming the first member of the worldwide Anglican Communion to do so.

2016Majority of Anglican primates vote to censure The Episcopal Church for a period of three years as a consequence of its decision to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriage. They issue a communiqué saying the U.S. church should no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

Two Anglican Communion leaders and some outgoing members of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) disagree about what happened on the last day of their meeting. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says that the council passed a resolution accepting the consequences called for by the primates. However, some ACC members say the council neither endorsed nor affirmed the consequences contained in the Primates Communiqué.

House of Bishops sends a statement to Council of General Synod (CoGS) saying a draft resolution to change the Anglican Church of Canadas marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage isnot likely to get the two-thirds majority vote it needs from the Order of Bishops.

CoGs votes to send to the July 2016 General Synod a draft resolution prepared by the Commission on the Marriage Canon changing the Anglican Church of Canadas law to pave the way for same-sex marriage. At the same time, however, CoGS says it has also considered the possibility of other options. In a message to the church, CoGS says, The General Synod may discern a legislative option is not the most helpful, and if so, we faithfully hope that through dialogue at General Synod an alternate way will emerge.

Some bishops express concern that some priests may go ahead and marry gay couples in the event that a resolution changing the marriage canon to allow same-gender marriages is rejected at General Synod. If its not approved, then, as we sometimes, say…there could be some ?civil disobedience on the part of clergy and parishes, and the bishops are going to have to handle that, because all of us that are ordained make a solemn promise to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Anglican Church of Canada, says primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz.

Bishop Donald Phillips of the diocese of Ruperts Land issues pastoral statement in his diocese saying, The time has come for the provision of same-sex marriages in our diocese to become reality?I am committed to working toward making that happen both as soon as responsibly possible, and in a grace-filled manner that minimizes the impact for those who struggle with this issue?both within and beyond our Diocese.

General Synod 2016, in a stunning reversal, approves first reading of resolution to change the marriage canon to allow for the solemnization of same-sex marriages. A recount of the vote showed that while the motion was originally reported to have failed by one vote in the order of clergy, it had, in fact, passed by one vote there.

Several bishops announce they will authorize same-sex marriages in their dioceses.

A group of seven bishops say they “publicly dissent” from General Synod’s provisional approval of same-sex marriage.


(With files from the General Synod Library and Mel Malton, Anglican Journal contributor)


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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