The southern Ontario Diocese of Niagara, meeting at its annual synod November 17, voted to allow civilly married gay couples, "where at least one party is baptized," to receive a church blessing.
Niagara Bishop Ralph Spence, who had refused to implement a similar vote three years ago, this time gave his assent, making Niagara the third diocese since the June General Synod convention to accept same-gender blessings.
Of the 294 clergy and lay delegates, 239 voted yes, 53 said no and two abstained. In 2003, out of 319 delegates, 213 voted yes and 106 said no.
"The question has been asked, 'Where do we go from here?' Much consultation will take place...When and how this will be implemented will be dealt with in the days that lie ahead. We are aware of the vote's ramifications," said Spence, who also said he has been in consultation in the past week with Lambeth Palace, residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Canadian primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz; and Spence's successor, Bishop Michael Bird, who takes office on March 1, 2008. Spence declined to say whom he had spoken with at Lambeth Palace.
The dioceses of Ottawa and Montreal recently passed similar motions and their bishops have said they will consult widely before deciding whether to implement the decisions. The Vancouver-based Diocese of New Westminster has offered blessings since 2002. Civil marriage has been legal for homosexual couples since 2003.
Clergy and lay representatives from conservative parishes who view homosexuality as contrary to Scripture and traditional Christian teaching said they were not surprised at the decision, but greeted it with dismay. "Our diocese has taken a momentous step away from the (worldwide) Anglican Communion and the request of the Primates. I grieve this as a member of this diocese and someone who is standing with other biblically faithful members of the diocese," said the Rev. Canon Charles Masters, director of Anglican Essentials Canada, a group which describes itself as "a national movement of Canadian Anglicans who share a common commitment to faithful biblical orthodoxy."
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