Canada’s Stunning Lurch Toward Same-Sex Marriage

A Parliamentary Process Gets Short-Circuited

TORONTO, JUNE 28, 2003 ( Homosexual activists scored a major victory with the recent announcement by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien that his government will shortly introduce legislation to extend the status of marriage to same-sex couples.

The move came after Ontario’s Appeal Court ruled that existing laws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The tribunal thus confirmed a lower court ruling that said Canadian law is unconstitutional because it recognizes only opposite-sex unions, the Globe and Mail reported June 10.

The Ontario decision came after rulings in British Columbia and Quebec also sided with same-sex unions. On May 1 the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned a ruling by the province’s Supreme Court, which had restricted marriage to heterosexuals. The judges gave the federal government until July 2004 to change the law. A Quebec court had also backed same-sex marriage rights and asked the government to re-examine marriage laws.

Following these decisions a parliamentary committee started an inquiry into the issue. The process was short-circuited by the Ontario decision, which was made effective immediately. In fact, the next day, June 11, the Ontario attorney general announced he would be registering same-sex marriages, the Globe and Mail reported.

Days later, Chrétien said the federal government would not appeal any of the provincial court rulings, and would draft legislation to recognize same-sex unions, the Globe and Mail reported June 18.

The next day the newspaper reported that nine of Canada’s 10 provinces will accept the extension of marriage to same-sex couples. The holdout is Alberta, where Justice Minister Dave Hancock announced that the province will try to use the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause in order to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Global campaign

Canada would be the third country, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to give full marriage rights to same-sex couples. Varying degrees of legal recognition already have been given to same-sex couples in France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, the New York Times noted June 15.

In the United States, Vermont has also legislated to recognize same-sex unions. Cases similar to those in Canada are now before courts in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The push for same-sex unions is growing in Latin America too. Earlier this month, legislation to grant legal status to same-sex couples was introduced in Chile’s Congress. In Argentina, authorities in Buenos Aires were poised to start processing petitions to recognize the same-sex unions within 60 days, the newspaper El Clarín reported May 20. The move follows a decision made by city authorities last December.

The city will extend to same-sex unions the same welfare and civil privileges given to marriages, with the exception of inheritance and adoption rights. (Only the federal government could grant homosexual couples the full legal status of marriage.) City authorities will maintain a register of the unions, which can be dissolved by mutual consent, or by the unilateral decision of one of the partners. Buenos Aires is the first Latin American capital to give same-sex couples such recognition.

Churches’ opposition

Most churches in Canada oppose the decision to extend marital status to same-sex unions. Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and Orthodox Jews publicly declared their desire that the government maintain the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the National Post reported June 20.

Presbyterians are also against the change, even if the Reverend Wayne Stretch, regional minister for the Presbyterian Synod of British Columbia, acknowledged the matter is causing “considerable angst within our church.”

On behalf of Baptists, Bill Mains, director of ministries for the Baptist Union of Western Canada, said: “Our position has always been that we see marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”

Anglicans are split over the issue, said Neale Adams, a spokesman for the Anglican Church of Canada, although he said that no priest in the denomination will preside over a homosexual “marriage” ceremony.

The only groups in favor are the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Unitarian Church, Buddhists, and a coalition of 25 rabbis from Reform Jewish congregations. Debate is continuing within the Reform Jewish movement, Canada’s second-largest Jewish denomination.

Catholic stance

Catholic Church officials in Canada were quick to express their dismay with the Ontario decision. A June 10 letter to Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon from Monsignor Peter Schonenbach, general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged the minister to appeal the ruling.

“Marriage as a public commitment between a man and a woman has profound cultural, religious and social significance,” the monsignor wrote. “The State has a fundamental interest in this social institution where most children are procreated and nurtured and, according to recent statistics, continues to be the most stable environment in which to raise a family.”

After the federal government announced that it would legalize same-sex unions, Bishop Jacques Berthelet, president of the Catholic conference, wrote a letter June 19 to Prime Minister Chrétien.

Bishop Berthelet said that he was “deeply concerned and profoundly disappointed” with the decision not to appeal the rulings of Appeal Courts in Ontario and British Columbia. The redefinition of marriage to be introduced in Parliament, he added, “would mean a devaluation of traditional marriage as the basis of the family and as an essential institution for the stability and equilibrium of society.”

The president of the bishops’ conference explained that the decision will also constitute discrimination against heterosexual marriage and the family, “which are thus deprived of their social and legal recognition as the fundamental and irreplaceable basis of society.”

Private groups also lamented the way the push for same-sex unions came about. Derek Rogusky, vice president of Focus on the Family, was critical of the rush by the Ontario tribunal to immediately introduce same-sex marriages. By not waiting for the results of the parliamentary inquiry, “our unelected judiciary has taken upon itself the powers of the legislative branch of government and has created an edict for Parliament to enforce,” Rogusky wrote in the June 11 issue of the Globe and Mail. On three separate occasions in the past four years, Parliament supported the heterosexual definition of marriage.

On June 18 a group of lawyers, academics and civic leaders published an open letter in the Globe and Mail protesting the “attempts to redesign an institution older and more fundamental to Canadian society than Parliament itself. While meant to respect diversity, it actually diminishes diversity by homogenizing very different forms of relationships.”

John Paul II, in a speech made Oct. 20, 2001, to participants in a prayer vigil commemorating the publication of “Familiaris Consortio,” warned: “If we lose the conviction that the family founded on marriage cannot in any way be equated with other forms of emotional relationship, we undermine the very structure of society and its juridical foundation.” Those words seem to have been lost on Canada’s leaders.

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