Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Canadians' Views on Marriage Ignored

Written by Rev. H.A. Bergsma
By deciding not to appeal the recent Ontario court ruling that endorses legalizing homosexual marriage, the federal government has delivered "a huge blow to democracy," says Focus on the Family Canada. Following a Cabinet retreat Tuesday, (June 17), Prime Minister Jean ChrŽtien confirmed earlier reports that the government will no longer defend in court the current definition of marriage as being one man and one woman. A week before, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down that definition as unconstitutional, opening the door for same-sex couples in Ontario to legally marry. "Rather," said ChrŽtien, according to the Globe and Mail, "we'll be proposing legislation that will protect the right of churches and religious organizations to sanctify marriage as they define it. At the same time, we will ensure that our legislation includes and legally recognize the union of same-sex couples." To avoid what he called "a long period of uncertainty," Chretien said the government planned to have the proposed law drafted in a matter of weeks. It would then be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada for "guidance" before being introduced in Parliament, where Liberal MPs--except for Cabinet ministers--would be free to vote their consciences. A referral to the Supreme Court would also pre-empt any possible legal challenges by the provinces. "There is an evolution in society," ChrŽtien added, "but what is important to me is the freedom of the churches." Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said that the legislation would allow the two fundamental rights that are in conflict over this issue--freedom to associate and freedom of religion--to "cohabitate." NDP MP Svend Robinson immediately hailed the decision not to appeal. "It's a great day for gay and lesbian people in Canada and I commend the Prime Minister," he said.

On the contrary, says Darrel Reid, president of Focus Canada, the decision is nothing less than a capitulation to the "undemocratic demands" of un-elected judges. "During the Justice Committee consultations, commissioned by the minister himself, thousands of Canadians participated in good faith, expecting their views to be debated in the House of Commons. Instead, their views have been ignored by judges in a court room," he said. "Canadians demand leadership from government on this crucial issue, which will have measurable effects on society in years to come." Reid says that leadership ought to include "if necessary" invoking the Charter's notwithstanding clause "to ensure that both marriage and the democratic process are well-served."

Canadian Alliance justice critic, Vic Toews, also expressed disappointment at the government's decision to forego an appeal. "An appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was the only way for elected Members of Parliament to be given the time and leeway to debate the issue in a democratic way," he stated in a news release. Toews also pointed out that referring a bill to the Supreme Court is very different from an appeal. "All a reference would do," he said, "is affirm that we are leaving this decision to the courts, and letting them instruct Parliament on how to change the law."

If Parliament does redefine marriage, it would become only the third country in the world--after the Netherlands and Belgium--to accord full marriage rights to homosexuals. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jean Chretien has put his own spin on things to assure churches and religious groups that planned laws allowing for same-sex marriages will not be imposed. "We'll be proposing legislation that will protect the right of churches and religious organizations to sanctify marriage as they define it." Chretien acknowledged some religious groups and individual Canadians will not agree with the decision. But he said it will balance the need for equality with religious freedoms guaranteed in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He stressed that Ottawa would not impose the new law on religious groups, who can still refuse to perform same-sex weddings.

Despite the concession to religious groups, the government's decision came as a blow to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which had led a coalition of faith groups that vigorously opposes allowing same-sex marriages. Polls have suggested Canadians are almost evenly split on the issue. (Selections taken from Religious News Service and TodayÕs Family News)

It is getting more and more difficult to say Òproud to be Canadian.Ó

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