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Anglican diocese of Niagara votes to bless same-sex marriages

November 21, 2007:

In a historic vote, the Anglican Church’s diocese of Niagara, Canada, has allowed clergy “whose conscience permits” to bless marriage of gays and lesbians.

The Anglican Journal of Canada reported on November 17, 2007, that the diocese of Niagara “voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing civilly married gay couples to receive the blessing.”

The Reverend Ralph Spence, bishop of Niagara, who refused to give his assent to a similar vote three years ago, would respect the decision this time, the Journal added.

The Reverend Ralph Spence said he would allow the option to bless same-sex blessings in the Niagara diocese, which includes Hamilton, Burlington and Guelph as well as the Niagara Region.

In a meeting held in 2004, three-quarters of the 300 lay and clergy delegates attending the annual diocesan synod (meeting) had voted in favour of the “local option.”

Earlier, the Reverend Ralph Spence had attracted strong criticism when he co-authored a pastoral letter for Canadian bishops counselling them not to bless gay marriages. However, in a change of stand, he said, “The ground shifted underneath us when (the dioceses of) Ottawa and Montreal took the stances (on same-sex blessings) that they did.”

Both the dioceses of Ottawa and Montreal had voted in favour of the “local option” in October 2007. And, since then, the Diocese of California has condemned refusing church sacraments to gays and lesbians and had voted against what was described as discrimination against bishops in a same-sex relationship.

The worldwide community of the Anglican Church, numbering about 77 million, has been caught in a debate over the issue of whether or not to bless same-sex marriages ever since Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, was appointed bishop of New Hampshire in 2004.

The issue, according to observers, is threatening a schism in the universal Anglican Church, with conservative bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America – under whom are a majority of the members of the Anglican Church – resisting the move by bishops North America to include gays and lesbians in the communion of the Church.

Incidentally, the vote in the Niagara diocese in favour of blessing same-sex marriages comes close on the heels of the head of a conservative Anglican movement severing all ties with the Anglican Church of Canada.

Don Harvey, now chairman and moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, a conservative group that opposes the “liberal drift” in the Church, said in a statement on November 16, 2007, “Because of the unabated theological decay in the Anglican Church of Canada, many long-time Anglicans have already left their church and left Anglicanism.”

Meanwhile, Don Harvey, former bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, is set to lead a two-day meeting in Burlington of Anglicans who are considering splitting from the national church of Canada. In a letter to the Reverend Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church in Canada, Don Harvey said he “could see no future for himself in the Church.”

In September 2007, Don Harvey had attended a meeting in Pittsburgh, the United States, of conservative Anglican groups and endorsed a plan to establish a breakaway Anglican Church in line with orthodox theology.

Don Harvey has now placed himself under the authority of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, which oversees most of South America.




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