The Anglican Church of Canada has voted in favour of allowing same-sex marriage – by just one vote – after a week of impassioned debates and a counting error that initially led the church to reject the resolution.
To pass, a resolution requires two-thirds support from each of the three orders: lay, clergy and bishops. Michael Thompson, the church's general secretary, said the electronic voting system at the General Synod, held north of Toronto, had initially miscoded his file on Monday, listing him as a lay person instead of a priest – causing the resolution to fail.
The error was only discovered after delegates requested a detailed hard copy of the electronic voting records. It was amended Tuesday and the resolution carried.
The church has three years to consider and comment on the matter; the resolution will go to the synod for a second reading in 2019, when the church's governing body will meet in the Diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia.
Dr. Thompson said the vote has been difficult for many. "No outcome can address all of our church's need to live and work together," he said in a statement. "We have a long road ahead to restore our common life."
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, used his closing address at the synod to herald a "new relationship" with what he referred to as the LGBTQ2 – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning and two-spirited – community, while calling for unity within the church.
"We cannot allow the results of our synod to disintegrate our church or to disintegrate our fellowship," he said.
"God is calling us to this new thing, this thing that sometimes perhaps we don't always understand: a new relationship with the LGBTQ2 community," he continued later.
"Too many of them have suffered the consequences of homophobia. Too many of them experienced discrimination, from whispering to outright rejection."
Archbishop Hiltz said he understands the church faces a challenge ahead, but he called on Anglicans to work to restore those rifts and divisions.
"We as a church – and I know it's challenging – but we've got to move away from a circumstance in which we talk about this community and not with them."
About 1.6 million Canadians identify themselves as Anglican, according to Statistics Canada, and church figures indicate that more than 500,000 of them are part of about 2,800 congregations across the country. Several Anglican dioceses in Canada – including those in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa – allow priests to bless same-sex unions.
Allison Courey, an Anglican priest in Winnipeg who married her same-sex partner one year ago, said she was thrilled to learn the news. "Our marriage is now recognized in our faith community, so that's pretty exciting," she said in an interview.
"Even though a vote can feel a little cold and heartless, what I see the Anglican Church of Canada as declaring today is that we believe God created queer folks of all types, different and beautiful and good, and that the love that we express for one another is created good by God," she said.
"Religion and faith can often be used to hurt and damage, and today it has been used to welcome and to love, which I think is the whole purpose of religion and spirituality."
The apparent failure of the motion on Monday night – which followed a bitter and divisive debate – stunned those on hand into silence. Some wept openly, while others embraced.
On Tuesday, several bishops said they planned to go ahead with same-sex marriages regardless of the vote. They leaned on a statement from the Chancellor of the General Synod, who said the current marriage canon does not specifically ban solemnizing same-sex marriages.
Bishop John Chapman of Ottawa said he would proceed immediately with such unions in his diocese – although no one would be forced to officiate at such a ceremony.
"It is time, my friends," he said. "It is past time."
With a report from the Canadian Press