Lots of mainstream papers have picked this up, but just in case you haven’t heard–the Anglican Church of Canada has officially passed gay marriage!
Well. It’s a little more complicated than that. The motion has passed, but by aÂ veryÂ slim margin, and we only discovered this after it turned out our electronic voting system hadÂ made several mistakesÂ and not counted several votes, as well as counting one vote in the wrong place.Â Do not let the media tell you weÂ changed our minds.Â It was a correction of an electronic error. I’m going to link to this article which does a good job of NOT having a misleading headline about what happened, if you want some more of the specifics.
Because those facts are now broadly available and have been verified, I’m going to skip over that in my own retelling. Instead, I’m going to share with you a series of moments from my experiences at General Synod. Some of them are good. Some of them are pretty abjectly awful. In a lot of them, I’ve done my best to remove identifying information about anyone other than me. I’m not necessarily looking to laud or to crush anyone in particular; I’m just a bit of a storyteller and I’m trying to give you a feel for what it was like in the room where it happened–or, in my case, in the hallway outside of the room where it happened.
So… in no particular order….
Our booth, calledÂ Our Voices: Advocates for Changing the Marriage Canon,Â has been set up directly in front of the entrance to the dining hall for Synod guests. Whenever they leave session, they walk by our table and then hover just a few feet away as they ladle out portions for their buffet-style lunches, dinners, breakfasts. Once they’re seated, they can still see us sitting outside the room as they chat and chow down.
Some people look at us, and smile. A few even come and sit in the chairs in front of our booth. Chat a little. Sometimes, people ask questions. Sometimes, they stand between the chairs and look at the photographs on our booth and then silently walk away.
Some people, too, refuse to make eye contact at all.
The Legislative Session began at 3pm, and for two and a half hours delegates to Synod went up to microphones and spoke. The majority of speakers, or at least, my impression of that, was that most people were in favour of the motion, punctuated by uncomfortable interludes of people who were very aggressively conservative.
Synod then broke for a brief dinner session, reconvening at 7pm. There were more people to speak, but I think everyone felt a general desire to move towards the vote. For the dinner duration, we sat in front of our advocacy booth. I couldn’t eat. Instead, I paced in front of my booth.
Ten minutes before dinner was over, I, my friend Dawn, and another volunteer, Jo, went to the hotel bar.
We each carried a drink–me, a full pint of Stella, and the others, glasses of red wine–back down the hallway to the large television screens where we could watch the vote happen. Several other observers and booth volunteers followed our leads.
There was a definite feeling that, no matter what ‘side’ you were on, this was not something anyone wanted to face 100% sober.
Speaker after speaker from the northern dioceses get up to speak against the motion. Some speak in English and others through interpreters. Over and over the bible is cited, from memory or from heavy leather tomes. There are references to Sodom and Gomorrah, the veil so thin you can hardly feel it, unspoken threats to queer life and happiness dancing just beneath the surface. These words, from different speakers, all blend together in my memory now, a death by a thousand tiny cuts, but one statement in particular has stuck with me:
“God has given us free will [but] … I have a heavy heart for those who have chosen what God calls abomination.”
I have been told, quite directly, and by people I care about, that I would go to Hell. But the lack of emotion here, the simple statement of what they perceived as an uncontroversial fact, was galling. I was an abomination.
A few voices later, another bishop rises and begins her speech: “You are not an abomination.”
But theÂ cuts are still open.
WordsÂ from gay clergy bring tears to my eyes.
“My partner is a lawyer in the office of the Justice of the Peace, we could easily be married next week–but we won’t, because we want to be marriedÂ in our church.Â ”
“I am the daughter of a pastor, and the Bible runs so deeply in my veins that I cannot imagine my life without it…. but God is not white or black or indigenous, God is not male or female or gendered.”
In the glow of their beautiful testimony, I dare to hope that we may just see the other side of this, after all.
Several conservatives rise and begin their statements with clarification between “loving people without loving their choices.” Two of them go further, condemning violence against LGBTQ+ people before continuing on to clarify that of course they could not possibly support this motion.
I mostly manage to keep my reactions to myself, but when one speaker, then another, references Orlando, I lose control.
We are sitting in the hallway outside of the Synod meeting hall, and we are not to influence the deliberations in any way. Security guards hover about, watching, to ensure our decorum and quiet, but I drop my cell phone on the table. It clatters impossibly loudly and I am unable to restrain a yell.
“NO!” I shriek, and people are staring, someone gets up and comes over to check on me and I am picking up my phone again, gritting my teeth, breath hissing through my clenched jaw. The security guard and I make eye contact and I raise my hands a little, a concession, but I can’t quite manage an apology. My phone buzzes in my hand as a friend watching the livestream back in Ottawa texts me angrily, putting my thoughts to words. I catch a glimpse of her message as I am enveloped in a hug from another queer observer, a quiet and soft-spoken man who has been running the numbers on our vote estimates over and over and over.
This toxic “love the sinner/hate the sin” culture contributes to events like Orlando. My friend’s words flash across my phone screen and remain lit in my mind:Â how dare she!Â HOW DARE THEY.
The vote is happening. My drink is gone and I can no longer sit. I am hovering, anxious, my hands pressed together in a symbol of prayer and hold them to my face, hooking my thumbs under my chin and whispering into my fingers.
It has been months since I last prayed this way, since I last focused my thoughts towards that Entity above and spoke directly.
“Please.” I whispered. Over, and over. “Please, please, please, please, please.”
For two days I’ve watched Christine go, non-stop, in front of our booth. She is always ready to talk, ready to lead, and her words always come out eloquently, rationally, on the first try. On our Facebook group she maintained near-endless patience with allies and good-intentioned-but-poorly-formulated questions. She speaks with grace to people who come by the booth and disagree with her, somehow able to maintain that professional smile as they tell her in front of her wife and infant daughter that they just don’t agree with her “lifestyle”.
Christine’s wife, Cindy, has just sneakily bought me lunch at the hotel’s Tim Hortons and we are returning to the booth for another long afternoon. The women make eye contact as I slump into a chair, already tired, and I’ve been here for much less time than both of them. Christine sits across from me and takes Cindy’s hand.
“We need to talk to you.”
I raise an eyebrow, a little perplexed, as I open my salad container and stab at errant lettuce.
“Do you know what you’re going to do after this?” she continues, and I set the fork down for a moment.
“After the vote? Even if it fails, I…. I think I need to stay.” I say. This has actually been a shift in opinion since my arrival at Synod–initially I felt unsure that I could go on in such an environment. But a youth delegate that I see myself in has changed my mind–I cannot leave them to the wolves, and I love this church too much to see it go so wrong.
Christine smiles and she and Cindy look at each other, squeezing their hands. “Oh thank goodness,” she says, looking back at me. “This movement needs you.”
This time both eyebrows lift. “But you–but you’re so–”
“No, listen. We need you. We need the trans perspective. You think of things in a way none of us do, and you are automatically so much more inclusive than all of us, without even thinking of it. We need you.”
I turn back to my lunch, speechless, and someone else arrives by the group, grabbing my attention and asking something about the schedule this afternoon. I stand up to speak with them, but Christine keeps looking at me.
Her words stick in my mind for hours.
The screen showing us the Synod floor flickers. It has been showing us the head table, where our Primate and the General Secretary sat with other leaders. Now, it shows a simple Excel spreadsheet, showing the three orders and the percentages of their votes.
We need two thirds in each order: laity, clergy, bishops. Two thirds. 66.6%.
I look at the numbers, frantic. We are all frantic. My phone is buzzing already with texts from the livestream and replies in the group facebook chat for General Synod. I skim over the numbers. 68. 66. 72.
“Oh my God,” I whisper, and there is murmuring in the hallway as well. Even the Primate begins:
“It appears we have the requisite two thi…” and then he stops as the General Secretary touches his shoulder. I look down at my phone and see the first characters of so many notifications:
I’m so sorry…
LESS THAN ONE PERCENT…
I can’t fucking believe this…
Eliot oh my god Eliot oh god…
I look back at the numbers. 68.42%. 72.22%.
We lost. By 0.43%, we have lost.
Sometime between 1 and 2 in the morning on Monday, Dawn and I lie awake in hotel beds, processing the vote that will come Monday night. We’ve both spent most of the day at our respective volunteering booths, both advocating in favour of changing the Marriage Canon. We are exhausted, but now, in the long hours before the vote we cannot sleep.
“I don’t want to sound insensitive here, but… what’s your stake in this?” she asks.
It’s a fair question. I’m non-binary trans. Both the canon as originally worded and the proposed amendment do not explicitly exclude gendered language, and my partner is an atheist, so it’s unlikely that, even if weÂ wereÂ to marry, it would happen in a church.
An external processor, I talk it out. Exhausted, I bumble through some ideas, but finally figure it out as the words exit my lips and drift up to the dark ceiling.
“When we did my name change ceremony… I’ve never, ever felt closer to God than that. I’m in a weird place right now. I don’t know how I feel about the Bible or church history or this Trinity idea or–or much of anything, really. But when we did that ceremony, when I stood in front of my family…” my throat cracks a little, but I continue. “I’veÂ neverÂ felt so godly.
So I’m in this because I’m selfish. I last saw God at my name change ceremony and I am trying to find Them again. God came to my name change and God has got to be in the love of gay and lesbian people. I have to find it again.”
We are both quiet for a while. I get up to go to the washroom and when I return, we both stay silent, then drift away.
Again, I am unable to keep my composure. My knees collapse out from under me and I burst into tears, dropping my phone to the floor and covering my face so I don’t have to see those betraying digits any longer. “No!” I gasp out between ragged sobs, and I can hear others crying as well. “No, no –”
An inspirational man who I met earlier in the day is suddenly there. He works training police forces in Caribbean countries, where it is still illegal to be gay, on how to be less homophobic. He had been sitting hand in hand with his husband, a military chaplain, watching the results come out, but suddenly he was holding me as I shook and sobbed, feeling as though my heart would explode and my body would crumble.
“No.” I whimpered into his plaid coat as he took deep breaths, silently encouraging me to come back from the animal panic that had consumed me. “No…. no…”
It is four o’clock in the afternoon and I have been asleep for about twenty minutes. After an incredibly rough night and a tedious four and a half hours on a train, I was back in Ottawa. I had put a positive face on for the radio interview I did at noon, that losing had not beenÂ soÂ bad, that three or four bishops had come out and said they would perform gay marriages anyway, that thisÂ was not over, but my spirit was heavy and I felt that I wanted to sleep until next week.
It is four o’clock in the afternoon and my cell phone is buzzing, and it wakes me up and I am confused, because I don’t hear the alarm sound, and it sure doesn’t feelÂ like I’ve slept for long enough–butÂ it’s vibrating like crazy. When I pick it up, I see twitter and the Facebook group chat exploding, messages from friends screaming at me to get on the live stream of General Synod.
There had been a request that a detailed list of the votes be made public and after doing so, several priests had come forward to say that their votes had not been properly counted. In particular, the General Secretary of Synod, who is an ordained clergy member, had for some reason seen his name listed in an entirely new category–“clergy, non-voting.”
On recounting the votes it was discovered that, in fact, the Anglican Church of Canada hadÂ passedÂ the motion to begin same-sex–and in a typical universe consistency, had passed the motion by a single vote each in the order of clergy and of bishops.
I didn’t even have the energy to cry. I sat in my bed, dumbfounded, as the notifications continued pouring in.
We had won.
The vote has come out against us and there is pandemonium. Quite a few of the delegates have fled the Synod Chamber, unable to maintain their composure or stay for the closing Eucharist and prayers. Many observers wander the halls somewhat aimlessly, hugging one another and passing around tissues. We are heart-broken, but try to retain perspective. Overall, the Synod had voted in favour. We had not won by orders, but it was a narrow loss. There was still hope.
Within an hour, despite it already being almost midnight on a Monday, three bishops had released statements. The motion may have failed, but there was a loophole in the canon as written–since there was noÂ explicitÂ prohibition of same-sex unions, these dioceses would begin to publicly practice same-sex unions starting as soon as possible, with more news to come soon.
On twitter, the hashtag #RebelBishops gives us a spark to go on. In the car on the way back to Toronto to sleep, I think of the 23rd Psalm.
(A Psalm of David.)
1 Â The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2Â Â He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3Â Â He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4Â Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5Â Â Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Â Â Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
If you want some other reflections on Synod, I’d recommend:
- this interview with Allison Courey, who happens to be a civilly married lesbian priest and very fun lady with super rad hair
- this blog post by Scott Gunn, who provides a perspective from outside of the Anglican Church
- this now out-dated post by theÂ Anglican Journal,Â who interviews people from clergy, laity, and bishops orders following the original vote when we thought the motion had failed.
Aaaand as usual I am an under-employed and financially struggling trans kid with mental health problems and severe lack of energy. If this post, or any of my others, has meant something to you, please consider donating to me, even just the cost of a coffee. It helps cover medication and bills, and alsoÂ directlyÂ furthers my blogging and community volunteering as a consultant and facilitator on queer issues. Thank you so much!