Canada: Ample discussion needed before same-sex marriage vote, says group

[Anglican Journal] When the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod meets in July to vote on same-sex marriage, ample discussion time must be provided before the vote is taken, the working group on the marriage canon recommended in a March 13 report to Council of General Synod (CoGS).

“There were conversations at some point about putting more time afterward,” said the Rev. Karen Egan, one of the group’s members. “But we continue to believe that this motion should be taken seriously…so there continues to be two rounds of conversation of about 90 minutes [before the vote].”

Egan spoke in response to suggestions that, given how painful the fallout of the vote to change the laws of the Anglican Church of Canada to allow for same-sex marriage was likely to be whatever the verdict, a significant chunk of time should be set aside after the vote for people to work through the decision.

In 2013, General Synod charged CoGS to bring a motion to the 2016 General Synod meeting July 7-12, asking for a change to the marriage canon (church law) to allow for same-sex marriage. As part of this process, CoGS set up a Commission on the Marriage Canon, which released a report, This Holy Estate, in September 2015. Following the release of the report, it was decided that a working group should be established to facilitate conversation around the marriage canon at General Synod 2016.

The working group had drafted a series of recommendations and was ready to send them on to CoGS at the end of January. But after a communiqué from a special meeting of the House of Bishops in February reported that a motion to allow same-sex marriage was “not likely” to pass in the Order of Bishops, it  decided to seek more feedback from CoGS.

To this end, the working group introduced an outline of the recommendations during an initial report to CoGS on March 10, with the understanding that suggestions made over the course of the meetings would be incorporated into a final draft.

“What we have heard you say is that [This Holy Estate] needs to be studied,” said Egan on March 13, noting that the working group had increased the amount of time allotted for discussion of the marriage commission report after hearing the Council’s feedback.

Greater sensitivity around Indigenous participation was another issue Egan flagged as requiring special attention.

“The Indigenous groups in this conversation need to be consulted about how they want to be a part of it,” she said. “There’s a will, I think, for us to hear Indigenous voices, and that also needs to be measured against the will of our Indigenous brothers and sisters to remain together and speak about that themselves…There needs to be consultation about that.”

The working group’s report suggested that while members of General Synod should spend the bulk of their time—two 90-minute sessions—in “neighbourhood groups” comprising two or three mixed table groups of no more than 25 people, both times should be introduced by plenaries giving detailed information on This Holy Estate and various legislative options for dealing with the motion.

The working group stressed that the “neighbourhood groups” are meant to be places for “everyone to be heard and everyone’s opinion to be valued,” not fora for debates. It also noted that the groups should be diverse in terms of age and opinion.

This was cause for concern for Bishop Larry Robertson, of the diocese of Yukon, who said that delegates from his diocese were uncomfortable about being separated from each other while discussing same-sex marriage, due to a feeling that they were culturally different from other parts of the church.

“We do want to be together when that’s discussed,” he said. “With other people, fine, but together.”

Egan assured Robertson that efforts would be made to ensure that members of General Synod would not feel ostracized or alone, noting that a need to hear different voices would be “balanced against…a need for the groups themselves to be comfortable.”

The working group also recommended that each of the dozen or so groups be led by a facilitator who is not a member of General Synod, suggesting that skilled volunteers from the Toronto area could be recruited and trained for this purpose beforehand. [General Synod is scheduled to meet in Richmond Hill, Ont., which is about 20 km north of downtown Toronto.]

To manage the process of overseeing, training and supporting these volunteers, the committee suggested a “professional ‘captain’” be engaged.

While the recommendations go into some detail, Egan stressed that they are still only recommendations.

“It really is up to [the General Synod planning committee] to use them as they can,” she said.

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