OTTAWA, JULY 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The approval of legislation allowing marriage by same-sex couples in Canada has been strongly criticized by the country’s bishops. On June 28 the lower house of Parliament, the Commons, passed the bill, which is now before the Senate. This non-elected chamber is controlled by a majority of members appointed by the ruling Liberal Party, and approval of the law is expected shortly.
In a statement released on the same day the Commons voted in favor of the bill Archbishop Brendan O’Brien, president of the bishops’ conference, expressed regret for the “unfortunate step toward eliminating civil and social recognition and appreciation for the unique importance of the committed relationship of a man and a woman in marriage.”
He insisted that by allowing same-sex couples to marry the government is placing at risk “the future of marriage as a fundamental social institution, together with the importance that society accords the irreplaceable role of a husband and wife in conceiving and raising children.”
Archbishop O’Brien also noted that there is a “dangerous deterioration” of communal values in Canada, with high rates of marriage breakdown and abortion, and a declining number of births.
Following the vote in Parliament there is also renewed controversy over the issue of support by some Catholic politicians for same-sex marriage.
The Ottawa Citizen newspaper on July 6 reported that Charles Angus, a member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay, has been denied the possibility of receiving Communion by his parish priest. Father John Lernire had warned Angus some months ago that this would happen if he continued to support the same-sex marriage bill, the article said. The priest’s decision was supported by Archbishop Paul Marchand of Timmins.
Another Catholic parliamentarian, Joe Comartin, a member for Windsor-Tecumseh, has been barred from teaching marriage classes in his local parish, the National Post reported July 9. The article quoted Sylvain Salvas, director of communications for the bishops’ conference, who said there are no national guidelines on how each diocese should deal with politicians.
But Salvas observed: “We have made our national position on the issue quite clear. The conference has intervened almost 30 times before the Supreme Court and the Senate opposing same-sex marriage.”
Bishop Ronald Fabbro of the London Diocese, in which the parish is located, distributed a letter to parishioners explaining the decision.
The Vatican has made clear that Catholic politicians should not vote for same-sex marriage. On July 31, 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a statement entitled “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.”
All Catholics, the document stated, “are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions” (No. 10). It added: “Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way.” Regarding legislative proposals on the matter, “the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.”
Witness to truth
The Vatican document also asked that if legislation recognizing same-sex marriages is approved, “the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth.”
All Catholics, in fact, are asked to oppose such laws, once in place. “One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection” (No. 5).
Another question in play is if the ruling Liberal Party will suffer a backlash from Catholics over its push for same-sex marriages. A commentary by Jeffrey Simpson in Wednesday’s issue of the Globe and Mail newspaper pondered the phenomenon of Catholic support for the ruling Liberal Party.
Simpson noted that in elections since 1965 Catholics outside Quebec have preferred Liberals in Ontario and Atlantic Canada by an average of 18 points over other parties. In Ontario, Catholics make up 30% of the electorate, and 40% in the Atlantic provinces. “Without the big lead among Catholics, the Liberal lead would evaporate in both regions — and, with it, the party’s grip on power,” commented Simpson.
The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has been hearing evidence on the bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in past days. On Wednesday Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and primate of the Church in Canada, and Hélène Aubé, a lawyer and mother from Gatineau, presented a brief outlining the Church’s opposition to the proposed law.
The Church’s submission noted: “Neither the state nor religions invented marriage nor determined its natural components. They merely institutionalized a reality that existed well before them, thereby recognizing that the inherent characteristics of this reality — the stability of the couple, as well as the procreation and education of children — would assure the common good of society.”
The decision to give legal recognition to same-sex couples is, the brief said, based on a false understanding of what equality between persons means and on the question of human dignity and minority rights.
The brief also explained that marriage is more than just a relationship between two consenting adults, aimed at mutual fulfillment. “It possesses another constituent element, namely, the procreative potential of the man and woman who are making the commitment.”
And concerning the question of children: “It must also be added that with regard to education of children, the same values cannot reasonably be attributed to both types of union. The principal right of children is to be born of an act of love and to live in complete communion with a father and mother.”
Given this situation, discrimination is not suffered by homosexuals who cannot marry each other; rather, same-sex marriage would be unjust and discriminatory toward heterosexual couples. The brief contends, “The state must accord special treatment to a man and woman who marry, not because of the exclusivity, dependence, duration or sexual nature of their union, but because of its vital function of procreation and its function of socialization that encourages complementarity between man and woman for the greater good of their children.”
The submission explained that promoting same-sex marriage on the grounds of “equal rights” is based on a misunderstanding of what human dignity means. “The equality and dignity of persons do not depend on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or marital status,” it said. “Their dignity and equality are based on the simple fact that they are members of the human race. To respect their dignity, neither the state nor society is obliged to legally accept their ‘lifestyle’ that has no reason to be publicly recognized as a social value.”
The submission also expressed fears over what will happen regarding Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage. While the bill affirms that freedom of religion is protected and that those who perform marriages can refuse to marry same-sex couples, much will depend on how willing the provinces are to guarantee this right.
In recent years, opposition to same-sex marriage has been described as homophobic. “Once the state imposes a new standard affirming that homosexual sexual behavior is a social good, those who oppose it for religious motives or motives of conscience will be considered as bigots, anti-gay and homophobes, and then risk prosecution.” The stage seems set for further controversy.