ST. CATHARINES, Ontario – The Anglican Church of Canada (search) approved a measure Thursday to "affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same sex relationships."
The move stops short of authorizing dioceses to hold same-sex blessing ceremonies but is still likely to complicate efforts aimed at unifying the 77 million-member Anglican Communion. The worldwide Anglican body is deeply divided over homosexuality.
Delegates to a national church meeting handed the victory to supporters of gays and lesbians as a consolation prize the morning after they voted to delay any national go-ahead on church blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples till 2007 and possibly 2010.
The "integrity and sanctity" measure was approved by a show of hands.
World Anglican unity was one reason widely cited for delay on the same-sex rituals bill, which would have authorized the ceremonies under a so-called "local option" — meaning each diocese could decide for itself whether to offer them.
Anglicanism is already split over consecration of an openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church (search) and an emergency commission is pondering how to hold the 38 self-governing national churches together. Many bishops in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Mideast are furious over the Americans' move.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (search) released a statement that welcomed the Canadian vote on Wednesday, but ignored the action on Thursday.
"It is important that the Canadian church has held back from a structural shift that would have run counter to the pleas and wishes of ... so many around the Communion," he said.
The Canadian church action comes in the midst of a federal election campaign in which full-fledged gay marriage is an issue.
Its "sanctity" measure also goes beyond wording put on paper by the Episcopal Church. The American church passed a measure last year acknowledging that some dioceses are allowing same-sex blessing ceremonies, but not affirming the practice as a national policy.
The last-minute "sanctity" measure was introduced by Canon Garth Bulmer from the Ottawa Diocese.
The Rev. Dennis Drainville of the Quebec Diocese, who seconded Bulmer's motion, told delegates the church needs to express compassion.
"This says to thousands of people that we love you, we include you among the faithful, we seek to live with you, to work with you, to know you," he said.
But the Rev. Peter Moore, a former Toronto rector now in the United States as president of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, said Bulmer's bill "seems to intentionally confuse the voice with which the Canadian church speaks on sexual morality, which undercuts the church's ability to speak on anything."