A diocese of the Anglican church in Canada has voiced its support for the blessing of gay and lesbian marriages in spite of assurances from the national church that no such ceremonies will take place.

Ottawa Anglicans voted 177 to 97 in favour of blessing gay marriages at a meeting on Saturday, following several hours of impassioned debate. A similar vote in the diocese of Montreal will take place later this month.

Some Ottawan priests have threatened to stop performing marriage ceremonies for heterosexuals unless they are allowed to bless same-sex couples.

During the debate, it was pointed out that “the Church welcomes gay people individually, gives communion, baptises their babies, and even offers a pension fund that recognises same sex couples. Yet it can’t “bless” them even though it blesses boats, houses, even animals,” according to the National Post newspaper.

The Ottawa decision will do nothing to heal the rift in the 77 million member Anglican church in North America and rest of the world.

In June the Anglican church in Canada narrowly voted against allowing individual dioceses to permit blessings of same-sex relationships.

The decision came as a relief to the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Church worldwide, who is keen to avoid a schism over gay issues.

However, at the General Synod in Winnipeg, the Canadians also decided that blessing same-sex relationships was not in breach of their “core doctrine,” meaning the issue will be debated again.

“On the one hand, we said it is a matter of doctrine, on the other hand, the church is not prepared to proceed immediately with the blessing of these same-sex unions,” said Bishop Hiltz, who was elected as Archbishop and leader of the Anglican Church in Canada.

“There’s no question there will be considerable disappointment on the part of many, and a lot of pain.”

Six former Archbishops had come out in favour of blessing gay and lesbian relationships.

If the Canadians had voted to allow same-sex recognition, they faced expulsion from the rest of the Anglican communion.

Now the Ottawa diocese has made its views clear and given their bishop the mandate to argue for same-sex blessings.

The US Anglican church has already been censured and told to come into line with traditional teachings on homosexuality after they ordained an openly gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

The call to recognise gay relationships is an issue within the Church of England as well as the US and Canadian churches.

In July 2005 Canada passed the Civil Marriage Act and became the fourth country to allow gay and lesbian couples to get married.

The Act protects religious institutions from performing gay weddings if it goes against their beliefs.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is keen to try to find a compromise that will hold the fractured church together.