Anglican Church of New Zealand Votes to Allow Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships

(Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay)A priest wears a rainbow ribbon during a vigil against Anglican Homophobia, outside the General Synod of the Church of England in London, Britain, February 15, 2017.

The Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia on Thursday passed a motion that for the first time allows clergy to offer blessings to couples in same-sex relationships, though it did not change its definition of marriage.

Anglican Taonga, which is the official news service of the regional Anglican church, said that the province has undergone "earnest debate" over the issue of human sexuality for the past 50 years.

Motion 29, as the provision is called, preserves the church's teaching that marriage is solely a union between one man and one woman, but opens the door for individual bishops to offer "a non-formulary service" which will allow for gay couples to be blessed.

The changes also will remove disciplinary action for clergy who agree to offer such blessings.

A motion to bless same-sex relationships was put forward at the 2014 Synod gathering, and in the 2016 Synod the province established that the changes on blessings would be additions to the rite, rather than doctrinal changes.

The Anglican Communion News Service added that the latest decision will not apply to the Diocese of Polynesia, however. A separate motion stated that the Synod was "deeply mindful of the deep interweaving of cultural and religious values at the core of our Pacific societies that place a profound respect, and reverence for the belief in God and the belief in the traditional understanding of marriage."

It explained that Christians in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji do not recognize unions between people of the same gender, and noted that the Polynesia diocesan synod has shown that many of its members oppose such blessings.

The U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church are two other major Anglican communion churches that have decided to offer blessings to same-sex couples, though unlike the Anglican church in New Zealand, they have also changed their definition of marriage to include gay couples.

The Church of England, which is headed by Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican communion, continues to affirm the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

It faces ever-increasing debates in various nations about how to handle issues related to marriage and gay Christians in the church, however.

Welby has in the past admitted that he is unable to say whether gay sex itself is a sin, and in January 2016 offered an apology for the "hurt and pain" the Anglican church has inflicted on lesbian, gay and transgender people.

"It's a constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality. I want to take this opportunity personally to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, that the Church has caused and the love that we at times completely failed to show, and still do, in many parts of the world including in this country," Welby said at the time.

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