Members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) will meet in Toronto this week to receive a report from the Commission on the Marriage Canon, paving the way for a resolution on the blessing of same-sex marriage to be made at General Synod 2016.
The report—which will be presented to CoGS members on Tuesday, Sept. 22 and made available to the public later that same day—represents the culmination of work by the commission, formed after the passing of a resolution at General Synod 2013 that called for the preparation of a motion for changes to the marriage canon.
Resolution C003 mandated that General Synod direct CoGS “to prepare and present a motion at General Synod 2016 to change Canon XXI on Marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples, and that this motion should include a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.”
An amendment to the resolution led to the establishment of the commission (which itself is not a decision-making body), mandating that the motion to General Synod 2016 include “supporting documentation” that would:
- demonstrate broad consultation in its preparation;
- explain how the motion does not contravene the Solemn Declaration;
- confirm immunity under civil law and the Human Rights Code for those bishops, dioceses and priests who choose not to participate in or authorize the marriage of same-sex couples on the basis of conscience; and
- provide a biblical and theological rationale for this change in teaching on the nature of Christian marriage.
The report that will be presented to CoGS this week constitutes this supporting documentation. No decision on the issue, however, will be made before General Synod 2016.
The starting point for the commission’s work began before 2013, with a 2004 General Synod resolution recognizing “the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships.”
The bulk of the commission’s work over the last two years has been its broad consultation of individual Anglicans across Canada to offer their perspectives on the blessing of same-sex marriage. The commissioners also consulted a wide variety of opinions, including ecumenical and full communion partners, the Anglican Communion, Indigenous peoples, and gay and lesbian members of the Anglican Church of Canada.
A law firm specializing in labour relations provided a legal opinion on the conscience clause, while other specialists assessed the Solemn Declaration component. Theologians on the commission wrote the theological and biblical rationale for the blessing of same-sex marriage, which makes up the largest chapter in the report.
As requested, the report will include a draft motion as an example of a proposal that CoGS might bring before General Synod in 2016. With the commission’s work effectively complete, it will be the responsibility of CoGS to define the wording of the motion that will be presented to General Synod in 2016.
Ecumenical and Interfaith Co-ordinator Bruce Myers, who is serving in a staff-support role to the commissioners, stressed that it is General Synod that will make the final decision on any changes to the marriage canon.
Even if a resolution passes at the 2016 meeting, he noted, as a canonical amendment it will need to be re-considered at the next General Synod in 2019.
“For some that’s a frustratingly long process,” Myers said. “For others, that extended period of reflection ensures that the decision that comes at the other end is one that’s faithful to the mind of the church.”
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