July 27, 2015

In the 10 years since same-sex marriage became legal in Canada, observers have seen a steady erosion of religious freedom and conscience rights.

They also warn about negative impacts on education, particularly sex education, parental rights and the effect of marriage redefinition on the rights of children.

On July 20, 2005 the Civil Marriage Act redefining marriage received royal assent. The act tried to balance the rights of those with dissenting views to continue to advocate for traditional marriage, but increasingly those voices are being marginalized.

Cardus co-founder and executive vice president Ray Pennings said defending traditional marriage is "now quickly becoming hate speech."

Pennings said 10 years ago Canada witnessed a genuine debate on marriage, but now the debate has entered a new phase that could lead to more lawsuits, a loss of religious freedom, and potentially loss of tax-exempt status for institutions that do not pass the new orthodoxy test for secularism.

"It's a pretty worrying time," said constitutional lawyer Iain Benson. "

The key example of marginalization for Benson concerns Trinity Western University (TWU), a private Christian school in British Columbia that asks students and faculty to sign a covenant where they agree to abstain from sex outside of traditional marriage.

TWU wishes to set up a law school, and already several law societies have said they will not allow its graduates to become accredited to practise law in their provinces.

Recently, the Ontario Divisional Court upheld the Ontario Law Society's decision, calling the community covenant discriminatory.


Catholic Civil Rights League president Phil Horgan also sees TWU as an illustration of what happens when same-sex marriage is imposed on a culture. Now the state is intruding on religious education in institutions; will the state next intrude on homeschooling?

"These are not modest propositions; they go to the notion of the autonomy of the family, and whether there will be room in civil society to maintain such quaint notions as traditional marriage," Horgan said.

Both Horgan and Benson see an increasing threat to pluralism and a "diverse public sphere." All dissenting viewpoints, whether based on religion or not, are threatened, Benson said.

In the past 10 years, provincial marriage commissioners have lost their jobs for refusing to officiate at same-sex weddings and a Knights of Columbus chapter was forced to pay a fine after refusing to let its hall be used for a same-sex celebration.

As well, Christian Horizons, an Ontario charity that cares for mentally challenged adults, had to drop its morality code after a lesbian employee challenged it, and the Supreme Court's 2014 Whatcott decision limited freedom of expression in relation to homosexuality.

The redefinition of marriage has created "what amounts to a completely different institution," said Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian Thought at McGill University.

The biological family was a natural bulwark to state power, but redefining marriage to any two people, even if same sex, has the "effect of disenfranchising the natural family unit as a restraint on the state and on the state's power over the citizen."

But the process began more than 10 years ago.

"There is no way on earth we ever get to same-sex marriage without first embracing a contraceptive approach to sex and a serial approach to marriage – the divorce and remarriage culture," Farrow said.

"The problem here has been produced by the population at large, not simply by a small cadre of same-sex advocates or activists."

There is no reason not to allow same-sex marriage if marriage is only a close personal relationship, and if reproduction and parenting of children are only incidental to that relationship, he said.

But marriage is important to society "precisely because it deals with reproduction and parenting, and reproduction is inherently an opposite-sex, conjugal process," Farrow said.


The rising push for transgenderism is another example of the early effects of same-sex marriage, he said. Society is moving from the idea that one is born either male or female to the idea that gender is something a person decides for him or herself.

"We're moving away from treating the body as fundamental to the very nature of human being, to something incidental and truly subject to manipulation."

McGill University ethicist Margaret Somerville said her concern is not with adults and their relationships, but with the rights of children.

"I agree discrimination against gay people is wrong," she said. Including them in marriage was a powerful way to say that.

Yet society needs to have a basic norm of the family consisting of a mother and father who are the biological parents of the children, Somerville said. The children grow up in the immediate family structure of mother, father and siblings and their wider family.

There will always be exceptions, but "it makes a difference whether exceptions remain exceptions or exceptions become the rule," she said.


With same-sex marriage comes the claim that there is no difference whether a child is raised by his or her biological mother and father, or by two parents of the same sex.

"One of the scary things for the future, is whether we will be able to make a child between two same-sex people," Somerville said. "If you marry, marriage carries the right to found a family."

A same-sex couple might argue they have a right to "have our shared genetic child," and that it is "wrong for the law to prevent that," she said.

The basic disagreement is between those who think reproductive technology and surrogate pregnancies are acceptable and those who think they are not, she said. "The bottom line is whether you think the natural has any moral relevance. I believe that it does."

Those who don't believe one's biological nature is relevant argue that marriage and gender are social constructs, she said. "You only need two people to love a child, all children need is love and care, and it doesn't matter whether it's two men or two women."


The trouble with same-sex marriage and reproductive technologies is they are all primarily or exclusively adult-centred, Somerville said. "The rights of children are hardly taken into account."

For Gwen Landolt, national vice president of REAL Women of Canada, same-sex marriage has had an impact on education and "the teaching of homosexuality in the schools."

"The Civil Marriage Act was passed on the basis that homosexual relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships," she said. "Now they're teaching that in the schools. It has led to homosexual indoctrination in the school system."