Council of General Synod (CoGS) will convene a special session to receive the report of the commission on the marriage canon, which has been mandated to carry out a broad consultation about changing the marriage canon (church law) to allow same-sex marriage.
The special session will take place from noon-to-noon, September 22 to 23. Canon Robert Falby, commission chair, said the report’s early release would give CoGS “a two-month advantage,” since it wasn’t expected until November.
In a unanimous decision, CoGS adopted a suggestion made by the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, to have a face-to-face meeting to receive the report.
“What’s churning in my gut and rumbling through my soul is that this matter is one of the most critical and crucial matters before our church,” said Hiltz. “I know that it would be costly [to meet], but I think we owe it to the commission to give them a chance to present [the report]. We owe it to ourselves to have a conversation. We owe it to the church to have that conversation.” This would also ensure transparency, he said.
Hiltz suggested the meeting after CoGS members appeared deadlocked on a resolution that it meet by teleconference shortly after the report is submitted by the commission and decide “how and when the report will be more widely circulated.”
Prolocutor Harry Huskins, who introduced the resolution, said it was meant to address “uncertainties on how to deal with the report” and to provide a framework on how to take it forward.
Concerns had been expressed about how CoGS could have “control over the process about how it can be made public” while also upholding the principle of transparency, he said. The resolution provides “the best balance of bridging those two considerations,” said Huskins.
Some CoGS members, however, wondered how the report could be kept confidential until CoGS meets. Deputy prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner suggested that the report be circulated to members “in confidence.” She said, “The longer the period is, the harder it is. When that report is sent, it needs to be our document until we say, ‘let’s give it to people.'”
Several CoGS members, however, said the report should be made public as soon as CoGS receives it.
“We’ve been open [about this] to the public. I would rather see a motion that says, ‘after it’s been received and it’s been distributed to Cogs then it’s made public,'” said Bishop Larry Robertson of the diocese of Yukon. “I don’t have enough faith in people to keep it confidential. We need to be as transparent and open as possible.”
“Why are we doing this? We’ve been transparent. It will be hard to maintain confidence,” said General Synod chancellor David Jones, adding that the report should be posted online as soon as CoGS receives it.
Huskins said there was no point in delaying the release of the report to the public since CoGS cannot amend it. “Only the commission can change it,” he said. The council’s role is to receive it, to consider what it means and to put a motion, as directed by the last General Synod, to enable changes to the marriage canon that will allow same-sex marriage, he said. “We have a limited task, which is the wording of that resolution…The moment we talk about closing things off, we’ve defeated everything we’ve said about transparency.”
Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton, province of British Columbia and the Yukon, said she was in favour of keeping the report confidential only until CoGS has received it as a body and has had a chance to have a discussion about what the implications are. “I don’t mean ‘in confidence’ to be forever, or we’re doing something sneaky. [The report] does belong to us and we need to be clear so we can speak with authority.”
It was after several members stood up to offer their own opinions and other suggestions that Hiltz suggested the special meeting. Huskins’ motion was then withdrawn.
Meanwhile, in a report made in an earlier CoGS session, Falby credited CoGS members’ dedication and efficiency for the report’s early release.
Currently, Falby said, the consultation process is almost complete. The commission has yet to hear from the Canadian Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue, but it is expecting to receive a response from the Catholic participants by the end of May. Responses from other partners including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Communion have already been received.
Bishop Linda Nicholls, of the diocese of Toronto, and commission member, spoke about the content of the report and initially about the commission’s mandate. “Our task was to provide the support for a change to the marriage canon. It wasn’t a debate whether a change was necessary or right to do, that will be the determination of General Synod,” she said. “It is a fine point but it is one we have to keep telling people because it is still not being heard.”
The report will include a consideration of the Solemn Declaration of 1893 (which established the Anglican Church of Canada), a consideration of the biblical and theological rationale for same-sex marriage, the wording of an amendment to the marriage canon to permit same-sex marriage, including a conscience clause. “We gathered a legal opinion on the conscience clause and how it might be worded so that it could provide the space for all members of the Anglican Church of Canada if this were to pass,” said Nicholls. “The largest section will be the biblical and theological rationale,” she added.
Acknowledging the importance of preparing General Synod members prior to consideration of the marriage canon, Nicholls extended an offer from the marriage commission members to be available to CoGS members in the lead up “in whatever way that would be helpful – whether that’s to be available in our various provincial synods, whether it is to be available through our helping with preparations of materials to supplement whatever goes out to the Council of General members.”