Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada overruled clergy and laypeople on Sunday to defeat a proposal to give churches the option of blessing same-sex unions.
The issue has threatened to split both the Canadian church and the Worldwide Anglican Communion, a loose federation of national churches whose members do not agree on how the 450-year-old church should minister to homosexuals.
In Ireland, a spokesman for the Church of Ireland, which is affiliated to the Anglican Communion, has said that the church is opposed to same sex marriage.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said.
However, he pointed out that the Church of Ireland had made recommendations to the Dail’s Constitutional Review Group that the Constitution should be changed to give recognition to non-marital families, including same sex civil unions.
In Canada, bishops rejected a proposal to give churches the option to bless gay couples by a 21-19 vote. Clergy and laity voted in favour by larger margins, but the proposal had to pass in all three orders to be implemented.
"There will probably be some measure of pleasure (in the Anglican Communion) in that we have not moved ahead," said Bishop Fred Hiltz, who voted in favour of the blessings.
The issue has split the church in Canada, mirroring the deep fissures evident in the wider Anglican Communion, where the issue of the ordination of openly gay bishops in the US has threatened to destroy the fragile unity between traditional Anglican, mainly in Africa and more liberal practitioners in the West.
Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has legalised gay marriage.
Advocates of the proposal said that the blessing is not a marriage ceremony, but rather a ritual by a priest recognising and praying for civilly married couples, or those in a lifelong committed monogamous relationship.
One British Columbia diocese has allowed the blessings since 2003, and hoped to get permission from the synod on Monday to continue, said the diocesan Bishop, Michael Ingham.
Earlier on Sunday, the synod concluded that blessing same-sex unions is not in conflict with core doctrine.
That alienated traditional Anglicans, who point out that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is contrary to Biblical teachings.
"Our church stepped outside its connection with the Anglican Communion," said Reverend Charlie Masters of Anglican Essentials, an orthodox group.
"There's a great vacuum here," Masters said, noting his group will now seek direction from the Anglican Communion, which is dominated by the more conservative bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The U.S. Episcopal Church is the only church in the Anglican Communion which has not forbidden its clergy from blessing same-sex couples married in civil ceremonies.
The US Church has also consecrated the church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
The U.S. moves have split the 77-million-member global Anglican Communion.
Some conservative Anglican leaders have set a Sept. 30 deadline for the American church to pledge not to authorize official prayers for same-sex couples or consecrate another gay bishop.
If not, they want the U.S. branch expelled from the communion.
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