Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 16, 2003
Church slams gay marriage ruling
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
A ruling by the top court in Ontario that gays and lesbians can legally get married is being celebrated by supporters but slammed by some Church and family groups who want the federal government to appeal.
In its unanimous decision June 10, the Ontario Court of Appeal declared unconstitutional the federal government's definition of marriage as the union between "a man and a woman" only and demanded it be changed to "two persons."
"The existing common-law definition of marriage violates the couple's equality rights on the basis of sexual orientation" under the Canadian Constitution, the appeal court declared.
The judgment - based on a case involving seven gay and lesbian couples who sought civil marriages - affirmed similar court rulings in British Columbia and Quebec.
Among those disappointed at the ruling was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which wrote a letter to Justice Minister Martin Cauchon after the decision was handed down, urging him to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
"We were really hoping that the (appeal) court - with the strong arguments that the government put forward - would have showed a little more courage," Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, the CCCB's general secretary, said in a CCN interview.
In appealing the decision, the federal government said marriage should not be extended to same-sex couples because it is a "unique, opposite-sex bond that is common across different times, cultures and religions as a virtually universal norm."
One of the "telling arguments" the government made, said Schonenbach, was to state that the charter "was never intended to affect the wholesale alteration of fundamental societal structures."
He said the appeal court's ruling makes some "fundamental changes to the basic planks of society. That is what Parliament is for."
However, some spokesmen for gay and lesbian rights advocacy groups lauded the Ontario court ruling.
"This historic ruling means that same-sex marriage is now a reality in Canada," said Lisa Lachance, president of the Egale Canada.
Egale and several members of the Commons justice committee called on the federal government to respect the court's decision and not appeal it.
New Democrat MP Svend Robinson, who is openly gay, urged the federal government to "Stop the appeals, stop the obstruction, stop the waste of taxpayers' dollars in fighting against equality and recognize that the time for justice is now."
However, Premier Ralph Klein said Alberta is not about to recognize same-sex marriages as legal, and will invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to override any court ruling recognizing a right to such marriages.
Last July, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled the common law definition of marriage as "the lawful and voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others" violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), a member of an interfaith coalition - including Catholics - that intervened in the case, said it is "deeply concerned and disappointed" at the court's decision.
"This change in the common law is not an incremental step," said EFC president Bruce Clemenger.
"Today the court has fundamentally redefined marriage," he said. "Other courts have ruled that redefining marriage is too big a step to be made by the courts and should properly be made by Parliament."
Stating that over 90 per cent of marriages in Ontario are solemnized by clergy, Clemenger said the Church is concerned the ruling will have a negative impact on churches and religious communities.
"If marriage is redefined, the EFC is concerned about increasing discrimination against religious communities that cannot accept the legitimacy of same-sex marriage," he said.
However, Robinson said the federal government "must provide leadership on clarifying to Canadians that what we are talking about here is civil marriage, that we are not in any way interfering with religious freedom."
The court's decision came as the all-party justice committee prepares to submit its report - after more than two months of public hearings - on whether Parliament should recognize same-sex unions and, if so, what form they should take.
Earlier, Vic Toews, the senior justice critic for the Canadian Alliance party, said if Cauchon didn't appeal a similar B.C. Court of Appeal ruling by July 1, "same-sex marriage will become legal in Canada by default and the work of the (justice) committee will be rendered irrelevant."
The justice minister has said he is waiting for the report of the all-party committee. However, both the Canadian Alliance and some Liberal members on the committee say the report is nowhere near completion.
Several government MPs on the committee also want Cauchon to appeal the B.C. court's decision.