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 that bishops could provide for clergy who identify as LGBTI and are in legal same-sex civil unions to be licensed to minister in parishes. But the proposers withdrew this section before 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 it (41 votes to 25), and 55 percent of clergy (42 to 34).
The church includes Anglicans in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and on the island of St Helena. Same-sex marriage is allowed only under South African civil law.
Before announcing the result, Archbishop Thabo spoke of the “palpable pain” in the church over the vote:
“I wish I was in Makgoba’s Kloof (his ancestral home) … because if one (of you) is pained and hurt, it pains me too and I have learned as a priest that there are no losers or winners in the kingdom of God.
“The pain on both sides is palpable and tangible, and the image of a double-edged sword pierces me…”
He added that “all is not lost.” He said the issue might hopefully be taken up again at the next Provincial Synod in 2019, and the church could also consider raising it at the next worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops in 2020. (The meeting, the Lambeth Conference, is opposed to marriage between people of the same gender.)
He also said the issue could be discussed at the local level in parishes and dioceses “so that we can continue to discern together the mind of God…”
After announcing the vote, he called for silence “as we bring before God the pain that this outcome will cause to some members of this synod, some members of our parishes, some members of our church.”