Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2005
Bill endangers religious liberty
'Collision of rights' expected from gay marriage bill
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Church representatives are describing the bill to legalize same-sex marriage as dangerous to religious freedom and warned of unintended consequences to society should marriage be changed.
Ottawa lawyer William Sammon, who represented the CCCB on the marriage issue at the Supreme Court, said the bill will create a "collision of rights and will affect religious leaders in what they say, where they say it and how they say it."
Sammon said passage of the bill would bring even more court challenges concerning the circumstances under which religious officials might be compelled to perform same-sex marriages or let their properties be used.
Sammon described Justice Minister Irwin Cotler's assertion that the charter requires same-sex marriage legislation as "smoke and mirrors."
"The Supreme Court only said it was consistent with the charter; it didn't say the state was compelled to legislate it," he said.
Cotler introduced the long-awaited bill in the House of Commons Feb. 1.
The move came only days after Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew made comments implying that churches should not take part in the same-sex marriage debate.
In Fredericton on Jan. 27, when journalists asked Pettigrew what he thought about Church groups' plans to fight same-sex marriage, he said, "I find that the separation of the Church and state is one of the most beautiful inventions of modern times."
"It is a question of principle for me," Pettigrew said. "I will support the government's legislation on the marriage of same-sex couples."
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) called on Prime Minister Paul Martin to repudiate Pettigrew's remarks "that churches should not be part of the debate on proposals to redefine marriage."
In its Jan. 31 letter to Martin, signed by CCCB president Archbishop Brendan O'Brien, the bishops' conference joined a chorus of objections against Pettigrew from Catholic voices across the country.
Edmonton Archbishop Thomas Collins told Canwest News that Catholics "have every right to make our voice heard as well."
"This is an effort to try to remove moral comment from issues affecting the common good," Collins said.
As well, in a Jan. 28 news release, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops (OCCB) described Pettigrew's comments as "extremely irresponsible."
"There is a real danger in Mr. Pettigrew's remarks," the OCCB release said. "If religious people are being told today that they cannot participate in the public debate on certain issues, then who will be told the same tomorrow?"
In a media scrum in the House of Commons foyer Jan. 31, Pettigrew denied that he said churches should "butt out" of the same-sex marriage debate, and then proceeded to repeat the remark that got him into trouble in the first place.
"I said there is a separation of Church and state and it is a wonderful invention of modernity," he said.
Seemingly annoyed at the question, he said, "I've seen a lot of right-wing press put all kinds of things around it and some right-wing commentators."
Archbishop O'Brien, in his Jan. 31 letter to the prime minister, held firm to the bishops' opposition to same-sex marriage. "The Roman and Eastern Catholic bishops stand united in their opposition to legislation that would redefine marriage in such a way that it is no longer recognized as the unique, essential and fundamental relationship of a man and a woman."
The letter also urged a free vote on the matter.
Similar letters were also sent to Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton.
At a Feb. 1 news conference, Conservative Justice Critic Vic Toews called the same-sex marriage legislation "dangerous." He said that a series of court cases have already shown a "consistent pattern" that "whenever religious and equality rights collide, equality trumps."
Lawyer Peter Lauwers, who represented the OCCB before the Supreme Court, says passage of the bill will form the basis for more charges by same-sex groups to "punish institutions that don't support their view of things."
Lauwers predicted the charitable status of churches will be challenged and that public disagreement about civil marriage might run religious groups afoul of the hate crimes legislation.
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) legal and policy director Janet Epp Buckingham told a news conference Feb. 1 that passage of this bill will mean there will be "no room for those of us who have a different vision of family life in Canada."
"We are already being pushed to the margins of Canadian life. We are being made to feel unwelcome," she said. The EFC is a national association of 40 Protestant denominations, religious organizations and 1,000 local churches.
Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail reported Feb. 1 that the outcome of the legislation is far from certain.
A survey conducted by The Globe found 139 members of Parliament who say they would vote in favour of legislation to change the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Another 118 MPs said they would vote against the legislation, while 49 are undecided or would not state a position.
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