Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 2004
'Political winds' blow in same-sex marriage
Bishops pleased clergy not compelled to witness homosexual unions
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
While most groups supporting traditional marriage are denouncing the Supreme Court's Dec. 9 opinion in favour of same-sex marriage, some found comfort in the court's strong support for religious freedom.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said it was pleased that the court decision does not compel religious officials to perform same-sex marriages and that it does not call for the compulsory use of sacred places to celebrate such marriages.
"We're not surprised by the decision," CCCB counsel William Sammon told CCN after the decision was released.
Sammon said the bishops' conference would have preferred the ruling uphold the traditional definition of marriage as constitutional and declared same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. "But, the political winds are not blowing in that direction."
The CCCB view was echoed by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), an umbrella group representing more than 140 churches, educational institutions and ministry organizations.
"What we have is a very strong endorsement for religious freedom, so we have a great deal to build on," said Janet Epp Buckingham, the EFC's law and public policy director. "But we're going to have to do some work to ensure these guarantees are enshrined in law so we don't end up in an endless morass of litigation to establish these rights."
Both Buckingham and Sammon were disappointed, however, that the court did not determine whether civil officials can abstain from performing same sex marriages. The courts could have given guidance on whether the charter protects freedom of conscience in this area.
Manitoba has told civil authorities who perform marriages to turn in their marriage licences if they won't marry same-sex couples. Groups like the EFC have interpreted that as a violation of religious freedom because it forces people to choose between their jobs and their consciences.
The Catholic Women's League issued a release registering organization's "dismay" at the Dec. 9 opinion. The CWL, with 101,000 members, is the largest Catholic women's group in Canada.
"The league believes marriage is a unique, fundamental societal institution and must remain as such because of its essential role in the procreation of children and the nurturing of future generations," the statement reads.
Campaign Life Coalition described the ruling as "a disaster."
Jean Morse-Chevrier, who represented Campaign Life during the media scrums at the Supreme Court, said the group will work hard to re-elect those who support traditional marriage and work hard to defeat those who don't. She said Canadians should not have a vision imposed on them that is "contrary to nature."
In the non-binding legal opinion, the Supreme Court answered three questions referred by Canada's attorney general on proposed legislation to change the definition of marriage, and refused to answer a fourth.
On whether Parliament has the exclusive authority to determine who has the capacity to marry, the court answered "yes." On whether the proposed legislation extending the capacity to marry to same sex couples was consistent with the charter, the court also answered "yes," saying that the proposed legislation "far from violating the charter, flows from it."
On whether freedom of religion guaranteed in the charter protects religious officials from being compelled to perform same sex marriages, the court also answered "yes."
The court refused to answer whether the current opposite sex definition of marriage was constitutional.
Not answering whether the opposite sex definition is constitutional throws the issue back to Parliament.
"They have put it totally back into the political realm, with really very little in the way of actual instruction, but the political realm is where it belongs, so I think they have been very astute in pushing this back," said EFC's Buckingham.
"The Catholic Church will continue to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as the union of a man and a woman."
Purpose of marriage
CCCB counsel Sammon said Parliament should ask key questions about the social purpose of marriage.
"Is it merely to acknowledge close personal relationships or is it to promote the traditional family where children are born and raised and nurtured and educated? That's really going to be the battleground," he said.
In a media availability session, Prime Minister Paul Martin said he has no fear of the debate on this issue.
Describing Canada as a mature country, able to handle differences of opinion, he told journalists he has no problem with Canada becoming only the third country (after Belgium and the Netherlands) to legislate in favour of same sex marriage.
In fact, he said he liked taking a lead on the issue. "I've always felt that Canada is the world's most post-modern country."
Martin will allow a free vote on the legislation, though he will require his cabinet members to support it.
The CCCB, in its Dec. 9 statement, encourages Canadians to take part in the debate "in any way they can, and to make their views known to their representatives in Parliament.
"As the committed and stable relationship of a man and a woman, marriage is basic to the stability of society and family life. In so far as it is a social institution, marriage is concerned with the common good, not individual rights," the statement said.
"The Catholic Church will continue to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. We expect freedom of conscience and religion to be respected by federal, provincial and territorial governments, so that no one is compelled to act contrary to his or her beliefs," the CCCB said.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.