Marriage canon resolution may be amended with protections for traditionalists, bishops say

“I think everybody is trying to find ways that will enable our church to respect more than one view on marriage,” said Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: Tali Folkins
Published April 20, 2018

A resolution to change the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages may itself be amended to include protections for Anglicans who have a traditional view of marriage, said Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

“There is a possibility” that the resolution, which passed its required first reading at the last General Synod in 2016, may be amended when it is presented for a required second reading in 2019, Hiltz said in an interview Thursday, April 19.

Another possibility is that a separate resolution to amend the canon could be made, one that “would enable the church as a whole, as a General Synod, to say something clearer to conservatives who want to remain in our church” in the event the resolution passes, he said.

Preparing for a potentially divisive second vote on the resolution was an important topic of conversation for the Anglican Church of Canada’s House of Bishops at their spring meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., April 9-13, Hiltz and other members of the house said.

Larry Robertson, bishop of the diocese of Yukon, said he and some other bishops expressed concern that, if the resolution passes its second reading, those who define marriage as between a man and a woman may lose their status within the Anglican Church of Canada. They fear, he said, they’ll be told, “You are not in communion with the church; you are out of sync with the doctrine of our church.’ ”

In a statement released days after the synod, seven bishops—later to be joined by one more—also said that the approval of the resolution “imperils our full communion within the Anglican Church of Canada and with Anglicans throughout the world.”

Robertson said they hoped that either the resolution would be amended, or a separate motion would be passed to ensure protection for members of the church who hold to the traditional view of marriage.

He was very encouraged, he said, by the concern other bishops showed in their responses to this idea—and, generally, by the caring spirit that those even on opposite sides of the debate seemed to show one another.

Larry Robertson, bishop of the diocese of Yukon. Photo: Contributed

General Synod 2016 was marked by complaints of bullying during discussions of the resolution.

Now, dioceses across the country seem concerned with ensuring that a spirit of mutual respect prevails at the next General Synod no matter which way the vote goes, Hiltz said.

“I think everybody is trying to find ways that will enable our church to respect more than one view on marriage,” he said. “Many people, I think, are committed to move in that direction so that we don’t come out of General Synod as a broken and divided church in which people are saying, ‘I’ve had it, I’m gone, and I feel I have no choice but to leave.’ “

He added, “We don’t want that scenario. And I think the general mood across our church is to make every best effort so that that is not what happens.”

Hiltz said he recognized there’s some concern in the church about the “portability” of clergy with a traditional view of marriage—whether they would be able to be ordained in liberal dioceses if the resolution passes.

He also noted, however, the Anglican church’s heritage of including a variety of theological points of view—a tradition manifested in the diversity of views that coexist across the church in Canada today. “There is not one diocese that I know of in this country where there aren’t both conservative and liberal clergy, conservative and liberal parishes. Not one.”

Hiltz also said, with respect to protections for clergy with a traditional view of marriage, that both the current and the proposed amended canon give priests the right to decline to marry any couple.

John Watton, bishop of the diocese of Central Newfoundland, said he felt confident, judging by the response of the other bishops, that there would eventually be some provision for addressing the concerns expressed by Robertson.

He also noted that, since the resolution requires clergy to get the authorization of their bishop before performing same-sex marriages, it effectively leaves a decision on whether to allow same-sex marriages up to individual dioceses. Not all, he said, will necessary allow it if the resolution gets final approval in 2019.

“A number of us bishops—I’m not sure how many—have said that if the marriage canon passes second reading, we’ll have our own discernment process, and we will decide as a diocese whether or not we will allow it,” he said.

John Watton, bishop of the diocese of Central Newfoundland. Photo: Contributed

The bishops also talked, Hiltz said, about how the process of General Synod might be improved to make it less adversarial, so that no matter which way the vote goes it doesn’t leave members on either side of the debate feeling simply like “winners and losers…people who feel silenced and people who have won the day.” They also discussed how they might better accommodate Indigenous processes in synod.

Other highlights of the meeting included an update on an ongoing review of the process used across the Canadian church to assess candidates for the priesthood, managed by the Advisory Committee for Postulants for Ordination (ACPO). There seemed a general recognition by bishops, Hiltz said, both that there was a continuing need for something like the current process, but also that this should be made more flexible to reflect a number of changes in the life of the church since the program began.

Bishops also heard an update from a committee reviewing whether the Anglican Journal should continue to exist in print form and continue its traditional policy of editorial independence. The results of an ongoing survey of Journal readers, Hiltz said, will be announced at the next meeting of Council of General Synod (CoGS) this June, with recommendations to be presented by the committee at the following meeting of CoGS in the fall.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect that an eighth bishop joined the seven original signatories of a letter on the vote on the marriage canon following General Synod 2016.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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