A diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada approved same-sex "marriage" blessings on Saturday amid a roaring debate within the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Delegates to the Diocese of Ottawa voted 177 to 97 in favor of a motion that asks the local bishop to allow clergy "whose conscience permits" to bless same-sex unions. The move is expected to inflame controversy over gay rights within the worldwide Anglican Church body which many say is already torn beyond repair.
"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 77-million-member Anglican Communion has been torn by divisions, particularly since the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop in the United States as well as an earlier authorization for the blessing of same-sex unions in the New Westminster diocese of Canada.
"We in Canada and the United States need to do a better job of explaining what we are doing and why we are doing it," said Ron Chaplin, who introduced the motion in the Diocese of Ottawa.
Ottawa Bishop John Chapman said after the vote that the final decision on whether to bless same-sex "marriages" rests with him. He said he expects to take his time as he talks to other bishops both nationally and internationally before making a decision.
The Ottawa diocese is the first in Canada to ask its bishop to allow local parishes to bless "marriages" between homosexual couples since the Anglican Church of Canada rejected the blessing of same-sex unions in June.
"We make decisions locally, when it comes right down to it," Garth Bulmer, priest of St. John the Evangelist in Ottawa, said Sunday, according to the local CBC News. "A bishop, generally speaking, is much more concerned about listening to what his diocese is saying than listening to what a conflicted house of bishops is going to say."
The Church of Canada had also agreed in June that same-sex blessings do not conflict with the "core doctrines" of the church.
The Montreal diocese is scheduled to vote on a similar motion this weekend. Chaplin said he expects to see several dioceses across the country introduce similar motions at their annual synods and expects most to be approved.