The diocese of Niagara in mid-November became the second Canadian diocese to approve the concept of blessing ceremonies for gay couples, but Bishop Ralph Spence declined to endorse such action, saying that the diocese needed to discuss it further.
Of the 319 clergy and lay delegates at the annual diocesan synod, held Nov. 12-13 in Hamilton, Ont., 213 voted in favor and 106 were opposed. The motion asked the bishop to “grant clergy permission to exercise their discretion in blessing the relationship of gay or lesbian couples who have been married civilly, once they with their congregations have petitioned the bishop for permission to be a ‘blessing community.'”
However, according to church law, the bishop must give consent to motions passed by synod. Bishop Spence said that he heard “the will of the house” and was “torn.” He also said he would have voted “with those in majority.”
However, he added that he is “the bishop for all people — and (I) try to keep unity with the rest of the church ? I am not able to give my assent to this legislation and hence will not.” He said he expects parishes to discuss the issue, that he grieves with the gay and lesbian community and that the issue will come back at the next synod.
One delegate asked Niagara ‘s chancellor, Robert Welch, whether synod was considering a change to doctrine (something essential to the faith) and whether it had the authority to do so. Mr. Welch replied that in his view it would not be a doctrinal change, that “it’s talking about recognizing something that the state has already done.” (The province of Ontario legalized marriage for homosexual couples in 2003.)
Another motion on the subject, asking synod to postpone action until after General Synod 2007, was defeated. A third motion, that the synod carry out the recommendations of the Windsor Report, which called for a moratorium on same-sex blessings, was tabled.