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By Ron Csillag
Religion News Service

TORONTO (RNS) The Ottawa diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada has approved same-sex marriage blessings in a move sure to inflame tensions in the worldwide Anglican Communion in the debate over gay rights.
Voting Saturday (Oct. 13) by a margin of 177 to 97, delegates to the diocese’s annual synod in Cornwall approved a motion asking the local bishop to allow clergy “whose conscience permits” to bless same-sex unions.
The delicately-worded motion did not ask that gay couples be allowed to marry in an Anglican church, or even that their civil unions be sanctified.
It just asked that priests be given the right to approach the bishop for permission for such a blessing, should the priest and parish approve.
The motion seems to fly in the face of a vote at the national church’s synod last June, where delegates voted down a plan to let local churches decide for themselves whether to bless same-sex marriages.
At the same time, however, the national church also ruled in June that same-sex blessings do not run afoul of core Anglican doctrine. In 2004, the national church affirmed the “integrity and sanctity” of same-sex relationships but stopped short of authorizing blessing ceremonies for gay couples.
The issue has been roiling in Canada since 2002, when Bishop Michael Ingham approved same-sex blessings in the British Columbia diocese of New Westminster, helping to ignite an international uproar.
Ottawa Bishop John Chapman said he welcomed Saturday’s vote, and said any final decision on whether to bless gay marriages rests with him, and he expects to take his time making that decision. He wants to talk to other bishops, both nationally and internationally, before going ahead with a policy.
“It’s not helpful to walk alone,” he told the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.
“We’re not afraid to walk alone but we don’t want to walk alone.”
Conservative church leaders immediately condemned the Ottawa vote.
“It goes to the very opposite direction to what the international church is calling for,” retired Newfoundland bishop Donald Harvey, moderator of the conservative Anglican Network in Canada, told the Toronto Star.
The diocese of Montreal is expected to debate a similar motion at its own annual meeting next week.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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