BLESSINGS for same-sex marriages could be permitted in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia if a new proposal is adopted by its General Synod.
After a debate at the Synod in 2014, a working group was established to find a way for opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage to co-exist in the Church, while upholding the traditional doctrine of marriage.
The group has now published its report, A Way Forward, which proposes a compromise solution in which dioceses could decide if they wished to opt into offering a blessing in church for couples who had entered into a civil same-sex marriage.
New Zealand legalised gay marriage in 2013, but in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and the Cook Islands — the other countries where the Church has a presence — it is prohibited.
The report argues that, because it is offering new liturgies only to bless civil marriages, it does not depart from the traditional doctrine of marriage, which the Church will continue to hold can exist only between a man and a woman.
There was division, however, in the group, which included priests, bishops, and lay members. “While working-group members agree that they have met the brief given, they were not and are not of one mind on many issues. Their manner of proceeding in unity without unanimity was at times arduous,” the report states.
Besides the suggested liturgy for a service to bless same-sex marriages, an almost identical service is proposed to bless heterosexual civil marriages, too.
As “a rightly ordered relationship is only one that has been committed to God and received the blessing of the Christian Church”, there has been a gap in the Church’s liturgy ever since non-religious civil marriage became possible in New Zealand in the 1970s.
Dioceses would be able to choose either to adopt the rites for blessing same-sex and heterosexual marriages, or the rites for heterosexual marriages only.
A Way Forward also states that any minister who refuses to hold such a service to bless a gay marriage should not fall foul of laws that prohibit discrimination.
Anyone in a same-sex marriage would not be prevented from being ordained, as long as his or her marriage had been blessed and he or she sought ordination in a diocese that had opted into the gay-marriage blessings.
Bishops or priests from dioceses that opted into the rites would not be allowed to hold services to bless gay marriages in other dioceses that did not permit such blessings.
The proposals are described in the report as a pastoral accommodation of the Church’s unchanged doctrine of marriage, similar to the way those who are not baptised, or who are divorced and whose former spouse is still alive, are now also allowed to marry in church.
If the Synod, which is due to meet in May, approves the report, the first blessings for same-sex marriages could take place in 2018. The liturgy portion of the package would require the majority of diocesan synods to vote for the changes, and a two-thirds majority in each House of the General Synod.