Blessing of same-sex couples ‘not enough,' critics say

A move by the Anglican Diocese of B.C. to allow the blessing of married homosexual couples is only a small step, says a University of Victoria political scientist.

Janni Aragon, who has a special interest in gender issues, said for the church to bless couples but not perform or bless their marriages is not enough.

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“What you see is some softening of church attitudes to acknowledge these people exist, but to say, ‘;We are going to sanctify them but not their marriage’ is just hair-splitting,” Aragon said Monday.

Nonetheless, such small steps are a sign of the incremental progress in civil rights for gays in Canada, she said.

Last week, the Anglican Diocese of B.C., which includes 45 parishes on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands with about 10,000 members, announced rites, requirements and procedures for blessing same-sex couples.

Before a parish allows the blessing ceremony, the priest and a majority of parishioners must agree and make a request to the bishop.

To receive the blessing, same-sex couples must first get married in a civil ceremony.

The church insists it’s not blessing the marriage, but the couple and their covenant, or commitment,

Even in its written discussions, the church refuses to use the word “marriage” when discussing homosexuals in committed, romantic and legal partnerships. Instead it calls them “same-sex unions.”

For one Victoria married gay woman, who is in an 18-year relationship and has two nine-year-old kids, all the distinctions and half-way concessions just aren’t good enough.

Rhonda Peterson, 45, called it “lip service” for the church to make a distinction between blessing a gay couple but not their marriage.

“I retain my faith in Jesus Christ, but I just can’t agree with the church and how it operates,” said Peterson.

“Until it’s complete, until we are completely accepted in every way a straight couple is accepted, then it’s just lip service.

“It’s like that ‘;love the sinner hate the sin,’ ” said Peterson. “No, you either accept or you don’t.”

Last week, Bishop James Cowan of the Diocese of British Columbia said he didn’t think the Anglican Church is ready to perform marriages of same-sex couples.

The distinctions are necessary to take into account a broad range of opinions within the church, said Cowan.

In his letter announcing the new guidelines and rites, he even made a call for respectful unity over the issue.

“It is my hope that those who, in conscience, cannot participate in the blessing of same-sex unions will be respected by those for whom this action has been long anticipated,” wrote Cowan.

The issue of same-sex unions has been especially tough on the Anglican Church. In the Diocese of British Columbia, various members and clergy from at least four parishes have split to join a group called the “Anglican Network.”

Most recently, a number of Victoria Anglicans have joined the Roman Catholic Church, which still opposes the blessing of same-sex unions.

The Anglican Church of Canada held off blessing homosexual couples until 2002, when a Vancouver-area bishop sanctioned some rites.

Meanwhile, the United Church of Canada has been blessing same-sex unions since 1990.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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