Archbishop Percy Coffin, of the ecclesiastical province of Canada, asks Council of General Synod about the commission on the marriage canon's conscience clause. Photo: André Forget
The special session of Council of General Synod (CoGS) has drafted the resolution to change the marriage canon to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples, which will be brought to a vote before General Synod in 2016.
However, members still expressed concerns about the opt-out clause, which allows bishops, clergy, congregations and dioceses to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages on the basis of conscience.
For some, this was merely a matter of understanding what this means technically: Archbishop Percy Coffin of the diocese of Western Newfoundland, who serves as the metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada, noted that many of the parishes in his jurisdiction are multi-point, and could potentially include, within a single parish, a number of individual churches that held differing views on the issue.
“Is it possible to have a multi-point parish where some congregations decide to have same-sex marriages, but not others in the same parish?” he asked.
Lt. Col. the Rev. Marc Torchinsky noted that as a member of the Anglican military ordinariate, he is under the discipline of the bishop ordinary to the Canadian forces, but also serves in a particular diocese—in his case, the diocese of Ottawa.
“If my diocesan bishop says, ‘no you cannot,’ and then the Anglican ordinariate says, ‘yes you can,’ there’s a conflict there,” he said.
While the chancellor of General Synod, Canon David Jones, was able to clarify such cases, explaining that in a multi-point context the individual congregations, and not the parish as a whole, would have the right to make decisions, and that military chaplains were beholden only to the bishop of the ordinary, other concerns over the clause were more structural.
Dean Peter Wall of the diocese of Niagara felt that the conscience clause goes too far. “The drafters of the resolution were very generous—I think to a fault—with their interpretation of the word ‘congregation,” he said, explaining that the Anglican Church “has always been based on synodical and episcopal leadership and direction,” and that he is “concerned about congregationalism,” and the possibility of an individual church telling its priest whom he or she can or cannot marry.
Without discounting the issues Wall raised, Jones explained that the wording of the resolution was crafted to ensure that it would answer the requirements placed before CoGS by the 2013 General Synod resolution that sparked the creation of the marriage canon commission.
The resolution, C003, states that the motion to be brought before General Synod in 2016 must “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.”
Jones allowed that, “technically, CoGS could amend what it’s sending,” but hastened to add that “what CoGS cannot do is amend it in a way that is not consistent with C003.”
Jones pointed out that while General Synod could amend the resolution if it so desired, the Council did not have the power to change it in ways that would make it incompatible with resolution C003.
However, that did not mean that CoGS members could not voice their concerns.
“It seems to me it might be very helpful to have a discussion about areas of concern—not redrafting the motion,” Jones said, “but naming the concerns we can anticipate will be raised [at General Synod].”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, noted that these are issues that could be referred to the marriage canon working group. The group includes the Rev. Karen Egan, representing the ecclesiastical province of Canada; Bishop John Chapman, representing the ecclesiastical province of Ontario; Don Wilson, representing the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon, Tannis Webster, representing the province of Rupert’s Land, and Bishop Linda Nicholls of the diocese of Toronto, representing the marriage canon commission.
Despite these concerns over the conscience clause, the resolution, which is a draft of the one that will be voted on in 2016, is otherwise fairly straightforward: it declares that “Canon XXI (On Marriage in the Church) applies to all persons who are duly qualified by civil law to enter into marriage,” and amends the language of the canon to remove references to “man and woman” or “husband and wife.” It presents two additional regulations to be added to the canon, which would prohibit same-sex marriage under certain circumstances—for example, if a diocesan synod should introduce a canon banning it within the diocese, if a bishop has banned it within his/her diocese, or if a congregation has ruled not to perform such marriages in their church.
There is also a clause with allows ministers in affirming dioceses to choose not to solemnize a same-sex marriage, provided they refer to couple to a priest who will.
In order for the resolution to be adopted, it must be accepted by a two-thirds majority at two consecutive General Synods, at which point it would become law on the first of January of the following year. By this calculation, the resolution could not be adopted before January 2020.
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André Forget joined the Anglican Journal in 2014 as staff writer and social media lead. He also serves as managing editor of Whether Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Winnipeg Review, and the Town Crier.
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