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NEW ZEALAND: Acceptance for same-sex couples moves closer as Anglicans pave way for marriage blessings

NEW ZEALAND: Acceptance for same-sex couples moves closer as Anglicans pave way for marriage blessings

March 3, 2018

At a meeting of the Christchurch Diocese at St Christopher's Church on Saturday the regional synod chose to back a proposal that could pave the way for the blessing of same-sex marriages.

The Anglican Church inched towards sexual equality after members in Canterbury backed a proposal that could pave the way for the blessing of same-sex marriages.

Christchurch Anglicans from across the diocese voted to approve a motion urging their leadership to push for the proposal when it is debated on a national level later this year.

The issue is enormously divisive and risks creating a major rift between traditionalists and progressives.

But at a meeting of the Christchurch Diocese at St Christopher's Church in Avonhead on Saturday the regional synod chose to back the proposal.

An emotionally-charged debate saw views put forward from all sides, from those who feel the church is stuck in Victorian times for not driving faster towards equality to others who believe such a move could compromise its theological integrity.

Members of the Christchurch Diocese backed proposals to support blessings 107 to 71

The vote was narrowly passed, 107 to 71 -- with both the clergy and laity in favour -- after being carried out in a secret ballot.

Bridie Boyd, who is an advocate for the LGBTQI community, said the decision was a great relief and pleasant surprise.

The 23-year-old said: "We are aware that this is just a step in a longer journey but we hope to have a similar result in the upcoming General Synod.

"It's a fantastic indication to the community of where the Christchurch Diocese is at and how unified we can be."

But Reverend Mark Hood, vicar at St Christopher's, said the result was "disappointing" and he would redouble his efforts to persuade people differently.

"The issue is not whether it is going to divide the church, it is how do we decide what is good and what is Godly, and I personally determine that as coming out of the Bible," he said.

"I see us going in a different direction away from how I see the Bible teaching us.

"I think going in this direction is not good for people, not good for the denomination and so I'm disappointed we're heading in that direction. But that's just where we're up to as a church."

The vote means the diocese backs recommendations that would allow same-sex relationships to be blessed in its churches.

Bishop Victoria Matthews said it does not mean the church yet approves the blessing of same-gender unions in the diocese, but offers a unified way forward for people with differing beliefs.

She said: "The next step is to take our Diocesan clerical and lay representatives to participate in General Synod's consideration of the matter, informed by the decision we have made today...

"This is a conscience vote and General Synod will now consider the report carefully before any recommendations are decided."

She told Stuff the vote was a major surprise and that she had expected it to be defeated.

The bishop said: "It tells me that people listen carefully but also are part of a much larger conversation out in the community and are very aware of what is happening about this topic in New Zealand."

But she cautioned that the move was only "taking the temperature" of opinion in the Christchurch Diocese, and that there will now be a "very interesting conversation" for its seven members who will vote when the church's national governing body addresses the issue in May.

If carried, the proposal will allow for blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples who have been married elsewhere or are in committed relationships.

It will also give each diocese's bishop and clergy immunity from complaint if they refused to conduct blessings of same sex couples.

Advocating the proposal's approval ahead of discussions, Reverend Megan Herles-Mooar, a leading member of the Christchurch Diocese, conceded the proposal was imperfect but said it was a "starting point" that provides a "platform where debate may occur and where the theological integrity of individuals, parishes, ministry units and diocese may be protected and lived out."

The debate drew strident opinions from both sides, with one minister emotionally revealing how she had been told she had no place in the church because of her sexuality.

Another, Tilly Flood, who represents Addington parish, said it was "grossly insulting" for gay Anglicans to have to get special permission for a blessing and for a bishop to have to approve it, when non-church-goers can walk in off the street and be married.

She said: "In our church today we have people who say that homosexuals shouldn't be ordained or have their relationships blessed in our churches.

"These messages don't send steel bullets, but they send poisoned arrows into the heart of the everyday person in this church."

Another proponent for change said "God's love is all-embracing, inclusive and compassionate" and the current arrangement was "judgmental and exclusive and about power", while others condemned the church as being Victorian in outlook.

But other supporters of gay marriage refused to back the proposal because they don't believe it goes far enough on the road to equality.

And others rejected it outright, suggesting the church should not change to pander to the fickleness of ever-changing cultures.

Reverend Rory Redmayne, of the parish of Merivale St Alban's, said the proposal was "beset by difficulty and riddled with weasel-words that do no credit to the integrity of the church or the plight of gay people".

He said: "It is with great sadness that I must say that this attempt to safeguard the unity of the church does so at the cost of integrity. I ask, is that a price we are willing to pay?"

In 2014, the New Zealand Anglican church defined marriage as being "between a man and a woman". The decision meant same sex couples can not marry in Anglican churches.

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