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Canadian Anglicans affirm sanctity of gay couples

Delay decision on rites until '07

ST. CATHARINES, Ontario -- The Anglican Church of Canada affirmed the ''integrity and sanctity" of same-sex relationships yesterday, a move that stops short of authorizing blessing ceremonies for gay couples but still may provoke rancor in the global Anglican Communion.

The sanctity measure, which passed with a show of hands at a national church meeting, was offered to encourage gays and lesbians and their supporters. Gay advocates were disheartened by a decision Wednesday to delay any national go-ahead on church blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples until at least 2007.

Chris Ambidge, Toronto leader of Integrity, the Anglican gay and lesbian caucus, said yesterday's sanctity action will help in evangelizing gays and lesbians. ''This says the Anglican Church values you as partnered people," he said.

Yet keeping all sides mollified in the church debate over homosexuality has become difficult, as shown by the three days of discussion in Canada and by the deeper rift in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.

Anglicanism is split over consecration of an openly gay bishop in the US Episcopal Church and a move by Canada's New Westminster Diocese, in the Vancouver area, to approve same-sex blessings, independent of the national church.

An emergency international panel is pondering how to maintain unity among the Anglicans' 38 self-governing national churches. Many bishops in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Mideast are furious over the developments in the United States and Vancouver: They see gay relations as banned by Scripture.

Canadian delegates repeatedly cited concern for preserving worldwide Anglican solidarity as a reason to delay the so-called local-option proposal, which would have let dioceses throughout the country decide whether to proceed with same-sex blessings.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams released a statement that praised the Canadian vote Wednesday, while it ignored the measure affirming gay relationships.

Approval of the sanctity measure brought protest from conservatives. Canon Charlie Masters, director of Anglican Essentials Canada, said ''the international community and folks here will see this as close to what we defeated" regarding same-sex blessings. ''The impact will be great."

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