Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 31, 2005
Marrage spat threatens our religious freedom
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
A change in the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples poses a dire threat to religious freedom, despite repeated assurances from Attorney General Irwin Cotler that religious rights will be protected.
The warning comes not only from religious leaders such as the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), but also from the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood) and the president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, Phil Horgan.
McKay, who says his support of traditional marriage may result in "political suicide," warns that if the state changes the definition, the "state has made the choice that people who will only perform heterosexual marriage are discriminatory."
Describing the protections for religious officials in the proposed bill as "minimal," McKay told CCN Jan. 21 that the protections "will not be worth the paper it's written on not too long after the passage of the legislation."
McKay warns that attacks will come in a variety of ways, not only at priests and other religious officials, but at institutions and Church properties. Charitable tax status may soon be revoked, and those wishing to protect the sanctity of religious buildings will find themselves forced to rent their properties to ceremonies that are against their faith, he said.
How long will the state defend religious officials deemed to be discriminatory under the charter? Not long, McKay predicts.
These threats don't seem so fanciful after a tax official phoned Calgary Bishop Fred Henry during last June's federal election and warned him that his charitable status could be revoked unless he removed a pastoral letter opposing same-sex marriage from his diocesan website.
On Jan. 24, a Vancouver lesbian couple went to the Human Rights Commission to complain that the Knights of Columbus discriminated against them by refusing to rent their hall for a wedding reception.
CCCB President Archbishop Brendan O'Brien told CCN Jan. 24 that he, too, believes religious rights are "not as protected as they might be."
He noted that most of the rights for solemnization of marriage come under provincial jurisdiction, and already many marriage commissioners have been forced to resign in provinces that now recognize homosexual marriages.
While O'Brien recognizes the Supreme Court indicated in its Dec. 9 opinion that religious freedoms "should not be tampered with," he said those rights are "a moving target" and what is true today may not hold true tomorrow.
"We will probably see challenges in years to come from different groups, if the position taken by religious people is deemed to be discrimination," he said.
Catholic Civil Rights League President Phil Horgan says the chilling impact of the marriage definition change is already being felt.
He told CCN Jan. 25 that in British Columbia gay and lesbian educators are trying to change the education curriculum to replace terms like "mother" and "father" with words like "parent" and "caregiver."
So much redefined
"If you redefine marriage you redefine parent," he said, nothing that a court case in London, Ont., involves the application of a lesbian mother to have her lesbian partner appointed as a parent of the child.
"If people are not awakened to the challenges that are being presented, they should not be surprised when it occurs to them in their workplace or their school or any other avenue or walk of life," Horgan said.
Horgan echoes questions Toronto Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic raised in his Jan. 18 open letter to the prime minister of Canada.
"The law is a teacher. Does Canadian society as a whole, and do parents in particular, understand what the law will be teaching in this instance? It will be teaching that homosexual activity and heterosexual activity are morally equivalent. Public schools will be required to provide sex education in that light," Ambrozic said.
"A lot of Catholics have this comfort zone that this won't happen in Catholic schools," Horgan said. He points out that already courts forced a Catholic school to allow a gay student Mark Hall to bring his male date to the prom.
Horgan said that the Liberals are not only separating Church and state and showing their respect for freedom of conscience by forcing cabinet ministers to support the same-sex bill even if it's against their religious beliefs.
"What's really being advocated by Paul Martin and Irwin Cotler is the separation of conscience and politics," he said.
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