Commission reviews opinions on same-sex marriage

Canon (lay) Robert Falby, chair of the Commission on the Marriage Canon: “I am pleased that so many people, both lay and cleric, made the effort to make a submission.” Photo: Art Babych
Canon (lay) Robert Falby, chair of the Commission on the Marriage Canon: “I am pleased that so many people, both lay and cleric, made the effort to make a submission.” Photo: Art Babych
By on November 6, 2014

When the deadline for making submissions to the Commission on the Marriage Canon passed at the end of September, 222 individual Anglicans, two dioceses, seven parishes, one theological college, one ecumenical partner and several Anglican organizations had shared their views about the possibility of altering the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages.

“I think it is fair to say that the views expressed in the submissions reflect the diversity of opinion within the church as to whether or not the marriage canon should be amended,” commission chair Canon Robert Falby told the Anglican Journal. “I’m pleased that so many people, both lay and cleric, made the effort to make a submission.”

The Anglican Church of Canada began considering the question of changing the canons or church laws governing marriage after a resolution passed at the last meeting of its General Synod-the church’s governing body-in July 2013. Resolution C003 asked the Council of General Synod (CoGS)-which governs the church between the triennial meetings of General Synod-to prepare and present a motion to change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.” It also asked that this motion include “a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.”

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The resolution also sought a broad consultation about the preparation of the motion. At its fall 2013 meeting, CoGS passed a motion to establish the commission to carry out the consultation; the commission then invited Anglicans across the country to express their views on the resolution.

Falby said members of the commission are reviewing and studying the submissions as they prepare to deliver a status report to the Council of General Synod at its Nov. 13 to 16 meeting.

He encouraged all Anglicans to read the submissions, which were received between April 28 and Sept. 30, 2014, and posted on the website of the Anglican Church of Canada. “The decision is really up to the people who are delegates to General Synod in 2016,” he said. “It’s not an issue the marriage commission decides, and people need to understand what the members of the church have to say on the issue.”

Individual parishioners from 24 of the 30 dioceses across the country expressed their views, which spanned the spectrum of opinion on the matter. Responses from several parishes varied in forms that ranged from a one-page poll with each parishioner listing his or her signature as for or against the resolution, to lengthy statements that were subject to straw votes and approval by parish councils. One parish supplemented its written submission with additional reflections posted in a YouTube video. Anglican groups that submitted included the Prayer Book Society of Canada, Anglican Communion Alliance, Gracious Restraint Bishops and Integrity Canada. The commission also asked for three submissions from experts who have specialized knowledge of particular aspects of the issue.

Archdeacon Alan Perry, who has his master’s degree in canon law from Cardiff University, and Bishop Stephen Andrews of the diocese of Algoma, who is a theologian, both considered the question of whether the resolution proposed would contravene the Solemn Declaration, a document adopted by General Synod at its first meeting in 1893 and that forms part of the constitutional framework for the Anglican Church of Canada.

Lawyers at the firm of Hicks Morley offered a legal opinion on whether a provision in an amended marriage canon-which would allow clerics to refuse to participate in or authorize marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs-would be susceptible to a challenge under Canadian constitutional law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), shared her church’s experience in handling the debate over, and decision in 2011, to allow ministers to preside at or bless same-sex marriages according to the dictates of their consciences. She gave her assurances that the ELCIC, which has been in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada since 2001, will respect whatever decisions General Synod makes on the matter.

The commission, meeting just prior to the Nov. 13 to 16 meeting of CoGS, will receive some submissions from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, who were invited specifically to address the issue.

Falby said the work ahead for the commission will then be to consider the submissions and issues such as the Solemn Declaration and biblical justification as it prepares a final report for CoGS and works toward the wording of a motion that CoGS will present to members of General Synod when they meet in Toronto in 2016.

All submissions to the commission can be read at: http://www.anglican.ca/about/ccc/cogs/cmc/submissions/.

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  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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