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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 May, 2003, 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
Gay couple 'marry' in Anglican church
Michael Kalmuk and Kelly Montfort
The couple's blessing is a first for the Anglican church

A decision by an Anglican bishop in Canada to allow a same-sex "wedding" has been condemned by the head of the church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury - who has publicly backed homosexuals in the church - said he was saddened by the decision to "ignore the considerable reservations of the church".

The blessing of Michael Kalmuk and Kelly Montfort's 21 year union has sparked bitter divisions among local Anglicans and goes against a recent declaration by church leaders on the issue.

But Rev Margaret Marquardt, who carried out the ceremony, said it was an affirmation of "God's presence" in the couple's relationship.

The "rite for the celebration of gay and lesbian covenants" was backed by the majority of the New Westminster diocese synod in Vancouver at a meeting last year.

Bishop Michael Ingham gave authorisation to six parishes that had shown an interest in performing the rite.

He said it was "not a marriage ceremony, but a blessing of permanent and faithful commitments between persons of the same sex in order that they may have the support and encouragement of the church in their lives together under God".

We know that there are people that are having some difficulty with this and so that part is hard. It's hard for us too
Michael Kalmuk
But the decision - which eight of the 80 parishes opposed - has divided the diocese and a mediator has had to be brought in to try and reconcile the opposing sides.

Michael Kalmuk, 49, says he understands that the blessing of his union with Kelly Montfort, 62, has added to the turmoil.

"We know that there are people that are having some difficulty with this and so that part is hard. It's hard for us too," he said.

Increased tensions

Their service, at St Margaret's Cedar Cottage Church in east Vancouver, was attended by 50 family and friends.

Rev Marquardt said: "It's a wonderful moment and it's recognising that God's presence has been with this couple you know for 21 years and I'm just thankful that the Church has been able to affirm that."

Archbishop of Canterbury
I very much regret the inevitable tension and division that will result from this development
Archbishop of Canterbury

This week, Anglican leaders from across the world - meeting in Brazil - declared there was no theological consensus to support such rites.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, is concerned the Canadian diocese's decision will increase the tensions already dividing the church over the issue.

"In taking this action and ignoring the considerable reservations of the church... the diocese has gone significantly further than the teaching of the church or pastoral concern can justify and I very much regret the inevitable tension and division that will result from this development," he said in a statement.

Although he has liberal views on the issue, the Archbishop has promised to abide by the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution that homosexual relations are "incompatible with scripture".

He has said he believes that in time the Church of England will alter its stance on homosexuality, according to a new biography.

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