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Cape Town - Priests of the diocese of Saldanha Bay, which stretches as close to Cape Town as Pinelands, have declared they will not abide by a decision by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa not to allow “prayers of blessing” for people in same-sex civil unions.

The vote was taken by the church’s provincial synod, its top legislative body, on a proposal by the diocese of Saldanha Bay, which stretches from the northern suburbs of Cape Town to the Namibian border.

The initial motion before the synod also proposed clergy who identify as LGBTI and are in legal same-sex civil unions be licensed to minister in parishes. But the proposers withdrew this section before Friday’s debate began.

Opposition to the proposal was strongest among bishops, with 16 voting against and six in favour. Sixty-two percent of lay representatives to the synod voted against the proposal (41-25), along with 55 percent of clergy (42-34).

Debate over same-sex marriage has divided the Anglican Church around the world and in South Africa the high-profile union of Rev Canon Mpho Tutu and Marceline van Furth brought matters to a head.

In May, Tutu-Van Furth, daughter of Leah and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, revealed her licence to preach was being revoked because she married a woman, so she had instead decided to quit rather than force Bishop Raphael Hess, bishop of the diocese of Saldanha Bay, to revoke her licence. While same-sex marriage was legalised in South Africa in 2006, the South African Anglican law on marriage states: “Holy matrimony is the lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman.”

When news of the decision broke yesterday, a disappointed Rev Canon Chris Ahrends, rector of the parish of St Margaret in Parow, declared “the church has let Cape Town and the world down”.

“I’m gutted,” he said, adding that while he accepted the church’s decision, he would not abide by it. “If a married couple, who happen to be the same sex, come to me and ask me to bless their marriage, I will do so,” Ahrends said.

“So if that means going against the church’s rules, then that is exactly what I am prepared to do because this is a matter of justice.”

When Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba announced the results, according to a statement issued by the Anglican media office, he said: “The pain on both sides is palpable and tangible and the image of a double-edged sword pierces me.”

He said “all is not lost”, saying the issue would hopefully be raised again at the next provincial synod in 2019. The church could also consider raising it at the next worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops in 2020.

Ahrends said: “The church missed a great opportunity here.”

Bishop Hess could not be contacted for comment at the time of publication.

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Weekend Argus