Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 18, 2004
Religious same-sex marriage opponents defend their beliefs
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Federal government queries that may lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage across Canada got a rough ride from religious representatives who spoke to an Oct. 6-7 hearing at the Supreme Court.
"I don't want to be too pessimistic," said Peter Lauwers, who represented both the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops (OCCB) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in separate interventions. "But one has to be realistic about the trends in jurisprudence, trends which started with this court."
Lauwers, in an interview, said he sensed from the judges' questions and previous decisions that the "inclinations in the lower courts (which affirmed same sex marriage) are present in this court as well.
"Our primary concern has to be that our religious rights are protected so we can continue to be who we are."
After a day and a half of hearings, the complex questions posed by Canada's attorney general now rest with the nine Supreme Court justices.
Religious organizations will be keeping a wary eye on the upcoming decision because of the serious implications allowing same-sex marriage could have on the nature of the family and on religious freedom.
Peter Jervis, counsel for the Interfaith Coalition, said he thinks the judges accepted that the reference "raises important questions that need to be resolved.
"They're struggling to understand how it will affect religious communities, how it will impact on their greater participation in the culture."
Jervis said he thinks the judges understand some of the specific concerns about whether religious officials might be forced to perform civil ceremonies against their beliefs, or to make their facilities available. They also, he said, understand concerns about the ability to educate their children and to speak publicly without censure.
"The term marriage as it appears in the BNA Act is just an empty container," said Kathleen Lahey, counsel for EGALE couples and the B.C. couples who were litigants in the B.C. court decision. "Marriage has a certain elasticity to it." In other words, marriage has a specific cultural context, and that context has changed in Canada.
On day two, Robert Leurer, representing the Alberta government, asserted that marriage had an existence prior to the development of the state and that the common law and the Canadian constitution merely recognized this social reality. "The proposed legislation seeks to do what Parliament cannot do - expand its jurisdiction by simple legislation."
David Brown, who represented Focus on the Family, pointed out that the Constitution should be viewed as a whole, and one part of the document - the charter - cannot be used to chop down another part.
"Once you deconstruct the definition of marriage, one is infinitely expanding federal jurisdiction," Brown said.
William Sammon, representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), told the court that the regulation of adult relationships and the state interest in marriage are not the same thing. "The state interest is simple. It's the time-honoured integration of the sexes into a union in which children are born, reared and raised . . . The traditional family has always been considered as the norm, the ideal, once we go beyond that, we destroy the norm."
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