Niagara suspends priest over same-sex marriage

Published October 1, 2003

Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara announced in early September he had suspended a priest’s licence to perform marriages after the priest presided over the wedding of a gay couple. Bishop Spence declined to identify the priest or the parish. Gay couples in Ontario have been allowed to marry since the provincial court of appeal in June ruled that limiting civil marriage to heterosexuals was discriminatory and unconstitutional. However, religious denominations are allowed to maintain their own standards for marriage and currently, the canons, or church laws, of the Anglican Church of Canada restrict marriage to male-female couples. The issue of same-sex blessings is expected to be raised at the church’s triennial governing convention, General Synod, in 2004. In an open letter, Bishop Spence declined to offer a personal opinion on whether the Anglican church should marry or bless gay couples. He noted that he had “agreed with the house of bishops to enter into a process of discernment that will culminate in a spirit-led discussion at our 2004 synod.” Until national policy changes, he wrote, “I have insisted and continue to insist that licensed Anglican clergy not participate in the blessing of same-gender unions at this time.” Bishop Spence said in an interview that all Niagara clergy were aware of the church’s policy, adding, “I felt sideswiped,” by the priest’s actions. Chris Ambidge, head of the Toronto chapter of Integrity, a gay and lesbian ministry, expressed surprise at the priest’s actions. There is, he pointed out, an existing blessing for a civil marriage in the church’s book of Occasional Celebrations that the Niagara priest could have used, since the couple could marry legally in Ontario. “ It seems like a rather extreme thing to have done,” said Mr. Ambidge, “but I can’t condemn it.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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