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Anglicans to mull gay unions

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ST. CATHARINES, Ontario — With a divisive vote looming over same-sex blessings, delegates to a national Anglican Church of Canada meeting decided Wednesday to give themselves years to study the issue.

The action came on the question of whether to let dioceses decide on their own whether to allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

A vote on the so-called local option issue had been scheduled for Wednesday night. But just hours before debate began, the authors of the proposal withdrew it, instead putting a bill in its place that calls for a two-year study of whether same-sex rituals are "a matter of doctrine," and delaying action until the next national meeting in 2007.

The measure was approved by a vote of 142 to 118 among clergy and lay delegates and 22 to 12 among bishops.

But in a surprise liberal bid, delegates deferred action until today on a motion to "affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same sex relationships" even without formal blessing rituals.

Delegates expressed concern about the impact that a green light for the blessing ceremonies would have on the Canadian church — and internationally in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion of which it's a part.

World Anglicanism is already severely split over homosexuality, particularly the consecration of an openly gay bishop by the Episcopal Church in the United States.

If the 2007 meeting decides the same-sex blessing issue is a matter of doctrine, or central church teaching, and still wants to allow such unions, that would require amendment of church law at two consecutive meetings — further delaying any approval until at least 2010.

The original motion, and the gutted rewrite, were both the work of Robert Falby, lay lawyer for the Toronto Diocese, and Bishop Fred Hiltz of Halifax, Nova Scotia.