Canada's Catholics call for campaign agaist same-sex marriage
September 11, 2003
TORONTO — Canada's Catholic bishops called Wednesday for Catholics to
oppose a government proposal to legalize same-sex marriage, saying
such a change would "have a serious impact on society."
A pastoral letter by the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops
says it is possible to recognize homosexual and lesbian unions in
the law without altering the traditional definition of marriage as
being between a man and woman.
"We remain convinced solutions can be found without proceeding
to a radical redefinition of marriage," said the letter issued by
the council president, Bishop Jacques Berthelet.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien's government, bowing to court
rulings that the current definition of marriage as between a man
and woman discriminates against homosexuals, has drafted a law
changing the wording to "between two people."
The proposal has launched a nationwide opposition movement led
by conservative groups and churches, with protesters targeting
individual members of Parliament who have expressed support for the
It also has caused friction within the Catholic church. A
Catholic priest in Newfoundland was reprimanded by his archbishop
last month for saying in a sermon that the church's opposition to
same-sex marriage was hypocritical.
Archbishop Brendan O'Brien of the St. John's diocese called the
comment by Rev. Paul Lundrigan "totally unacceptable" for a pastor
responsible for presenting the teachings of the Catholic church.
In the pastoral letter made public Wednesday, the Catholic
bishops said the government should refrain from changing such a
fundamental concept as defining marriage.
"We reject the attempt of the State to reduce all intimate
personal relationships to the same level, leading to the
disappearance of the civil institution of marriage as understood in
all human societies since time immemorial," it said.
It said the government's plan to remove any distinction between
heterosexual spouses and same-sex partners confuses equality with
uniformity "by simply substituting one for the other."
"Non-discrimination does not require uniformity; it requires
respect for diversity and differences," the letter said. "Society
should value diversity. In the current context, refusing to
establish the necessary distinctions leads to confusion and to the
devaluing of diversity. It is not discriminatory to treat different
The bishops called for supporters of their position to lobby
their political leaders "in a spirit of love and deep respect for
all people" to leave the definition alone.
"Such a fundamental change, we are profoundly convinced, will
have a serious impact on society," the letter concluded.
Hundreds of gay couples have been married in Ontario and British
Columbia since courts in those provinces ruled earlier this year
that the current government definition was unconstitutional.
Instead of appealing those rulings to the Supreme Court,
Chretien's government announced the draft law to change the
definition to a union between two people. The measure has been sent
to the Supreme Court, the nation's highest, for judicial review
before Parliament considers it.
Some Parliament members want the proposal to go immediately
before the legislature. Chretien has said he will step down in
February, with former Finance Minister Paul Martin virtually
certain to succeed him, and Martin's supporters don't want the
issue to dominate an expected federal election later next year.
It is already prominent, with opposition leader Stephen Harper
of the conservative Canadian Alliance accusing the government of
stacking courts with liberal judges, then forcing the matter to
court cases it knew would be decided in favor of permitting
same-sex couples to legally marry.
"They had the courts do it for them, they put the judges in they
wanted, then they failed to appeal - failed to fight the case in
court," Harper said recently. "I think the federal government
deliberately lost this case in court and got the change to the law
done through the back door."
In response to the opposition, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon
has embarked on a cross-country tour to promote the legislation,
saying it represents a natural evolution of societal mores that
uphold human and civil rights.
Cauchon reminds audiences it once was illegal to marry outside
your race or for women to vote.
"Society evolves step by step," he said Tuesday in Winnipeg,
Manitoba, at an appearance with Glen Murray, Canada's only openly
gay mayor of a major city. "We believe in doing what we're doing.
We respect fundamental values."
Cauchon also notes the proposal gives churches the right to
decide what constitutes a marriage, instead of forcing any
religious group to sanctify a union it opposes. –Sapa-AP
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