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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious groups & homosexuality/homophobia

Overview of the conflict within the Anglican
Church of Canada (ACC) concerning gay
marriages for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals

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Overview:

We often use the term "gay marriage" instead of "same-sex marriage" because the former is the most commonly used term in North America. Using it facilitates Internet searches. However, we prefer the term "same-sex marriage," because:

  • it includes lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

  • the term "gay" is ambiguous; it sometimes refers to males with a homosexual orientation, sometimes to both females and males with a homosexual orientation, and sometimes to all persons who engage in same-gender sexual behavior.

  • "Same-sex marriage is a clearer term, and more inclusive.

Allowing same-sex couples to marry within the ACC 1 has become a major topic of religious conflict since mid-2015 when a Government of Canada bill was signed into law. It allowed such couples to marry anywhere in Canada. Unlike the United States, where the definition of marriage is set by individual states and territories, marriage is a federal government responsibility in Canada. That federal law made gay marriages available for the first time in those of Canada's ten provinces and three territories which had not already attained marriage equality by a court order.

The only holdout was Prince Edward Island whose government claimed that they didn't know how to implement the new marriage law. A lawsuit by a lesbian couple who wanted to marry in the province seems to have focused the Provincial Government's attention on the problem. They quickly found a way to join the rest of the country in making such marriages available.

Priests in the Anglican Communion have blessed marriages, dogs, cats, buildings, apartments, houses, boats, cars, etc on request. However, as of mid-2015, most are not permitted to bless the relationships of committed, loving, same-sex couples, except for those in ten maverick dioceses. A same-sex Canadian couple with a valid marriage license from their province or territory will be turned away if they ask their priest to marry them.

The ACC's General Synod is the denomination's governing body. Delegates meet every three years. It is made up of lay persons, priests and bishops from each diocese. The agenda at their 2016 meeting includes a resolution which, if passed, would permit its priests to marry same-sex couples.

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Historically, major ethical conflicts in North America. like the abolition of slavery, decriminalization of the use of contraceptives, ordination of women, permitting interracial marriage, etc. have been settled first by liberal/progressive religious faith groups, and eventually by more conservative groups. Blessings of same-sex relationships and ordination of priests who are in committed same-sex relationships are already permitted within a few liberal faith groups in Canada -- notably the United Church of Canada and congregations affiliated with the Canadian Unitarian Council. Change of these policies have not begun to be considered by conservative Christian faith groups. It is the mainline denominations in North America which are under extreme stress over whether to grant equal rights for gays and lesbians. This conflict is threatening to split the Anglican Church of Canada and other denominations.

The growing schism within the worldwide Anglican Communion offers an excellent example of the influence of local culture on religious beliefs:

  • Anglicans in Africa and other countries who condemn all same-gender sexual activity are demanding that all provinces in the Communion actively discriminate against homosexuals and bisexuals in marriage.

  • Those Anglicans in the U.S., Canada, and other countries who are beginning to accept homosexuality and bisexuality as a normal, natural sexual orientation for a minority of adults are advocating equal treatment for persons of all sexual orientations.

Yet both groups base their beliefs largely on the Bible: the former group on a literal interpretation of the six "clobber" passages so often used to oppress gays lesbians and bisexuals; the latter group on very different interpretation of those same clobber passages in addition to some biblical themes.

One commonly referenced Bible passage is Genesis 19:

  • Conservatives generally interpret Genesis 19 as implying God's dissatisfaction on all forms of same-gender sexual behavior. His anger was so intense that he destroyed every elderly person, younger adults, youths, children, infants and newborns in Sodom because of the intent of the men in the city to have sex with some male visitors.

  • Liberals generally interpret Genesis 19 as condemning attempted rape. Other religious liberals view it as condemning bestiality, since the attempted rape was directed at visiting angels who are a different species from humans. Whether the attempted abuse was same-sex rape or bestiality, it was profoundly evil treatment of visitors to Sodom.

Liberals also base their acceptance of loving, committed same-sex relationships on the Bible's themes of justice and love, the acceptance of the findings of human sexuality researchers, and the conclusions of psychologists and psychiatrists.

The ACC's ruling body is its General Synod, which meets every three years. The 2007 Synod asked  the Anglican Church of Canada's Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee to:

"... engage the church in conversation on the broad issue of human sexuality in all of its complexity, using the lenses of scripture, reason, tradition and science." [Emphasis ours]

These are the four traditional criteria that the Anglican Communion has used in the past when faced with conflict over policy. However, it is a recipe for difficulty, if not disaster, because there is often disagreement over:

  • Whether a specific passage in scripture was only valid for a particular era, like the first century CE, or whether it is still equally valid today.

  • How to handle a situation where reason and personal experience lead in a different direction from that of scripture and tradition. Which criteria should be given priority?

  • Whether church tradition is a useful criteria to give much weight to in a time of great cultural change, and a great increase in knowledge about human sexuality since the middle 20th century.

  • How to handle a situation where science points in a very different direction from both church tradition and a literal interpretation of certain biblical passages; who wins out?

  • How does one weigh scriptural demands for love, caring, and justice with passages that exclude, demean and even call for execution of sexual minorities.

Provinces within the Anglican Communion have handled conflicts involving major change in the past, notably over the morality of human slavery, the status of women, female ordination as priests, female consecration as bishops. Each time, their decision advanced equality, civil rights, and justice for women or minorities. Eventually, the Communion has emerged from the conflicts strengthened. A few generations after each decision, very few if any Anglicans would be willing to reverse any of those changes. However, the conflicts involving the acceptance of homosexuality are particularly difficult to settle. Permitting gay marriages is perhaps the most difficult of all. The unity of the Anglican Communion and even the unity of the ACC with other Provinces within the Anglican Communion are threatened with schism if the ACC decides to endorse gay marriages.

On 2013, the ACC's General Synod approved resolution Resolution C003, to vote on the issue of gay marriage at their 2016 meeting. The delegates will vote on whether to:

"... change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage 'to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite sex couples.' 2

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This will not be an easy decision for delegates to the General Synod.

  • If they vote to approve gay marriages within the denomination and thereby attain marriage equality, then many members and some congregations will probably leave.

  • If they vote to continue rejecting gay marriages, then many members -- particularly older teens and young adults -- will leave. They are probably the first generation to have a friend or family member from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual community (LGBT) . Thus, they are aware of the reality of sexual orientation and gender identity. Many of these younger church members regard homophobia -- discrimination against LGBs -- as a form of bigotry similar to sexism, racism, and religism (religious intolerance). The feel uncomfortable being associated with a denomination that promotes homophobia.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Anglican Church of Canada," World Council of Churches, 2015, at: https://www.oikoumene.org/

  2. Marites N. Sison, "Same-sex marriage vote in 2016," Anglican Journal. 2013-JUL-07, at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-AUG-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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