Last edited: January 24, 2005

Canada’s Two Biggest Faiths Battle Over Gay Marriage, January 24, 2005

By Ben Thompson, Ottawa Bureau

Ottawa—As Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin and Opposition leader Stephen Harper verbally spar over same-sex marriage, the country’s two biggest denominations have come out swinging with one opposing gay marriage and the other endorsing it.

A letter by the Roman Catholic primate of Canada denouncing same-sex marriage was read Sunday in parish churches across the country.

“At the risk of being judged politically incorrect, we need to recall that the bill under discussion is offensive to the moral and religious sensibility of a great number of citizens, both Catholic and non-Catholic,” Marc Cardinal Ouellet writes in the letter. “We therefore find ourselves at a turning point in the evolution of Canadian society, and the bill announced by the government threatens to unleash nothing less than a cultural upheaval whose negative consequences are still impossible to predict.”

But, as the Catholic Church was mustering support to oppose the legislation to legalize gay marriage the country’s largest Protestant denomination was sounding its support.

“Some will protest that we must have faith in the Bible, and that the Bible takes an unfavorable view of intimate same-sex relationship. But I would answer that Christian faith is not an uncritical repetition of a received text. It is a mindful commitment to the power of love, to which the text seeks to give witness. Every generation of the Christian faith must decide how they will honor that demand of love in the living of their days. Changing circumstances and changing ideas are not the enemy of faith,” said the Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short, Moderator of the United Church of Canada in an open letter to all members of Parliament.

“It is wrong to invoke the love of God in order that one person’s ‘values’ might diminish another’s value. Those who claim that homosexual people threaten to dismantle the value of heterosexual marriage would do well to remember that if anyone destroys marriage, it is married people, not gays and lesbians.”

Dr. Short also invited MPs to a parliamentary breakfast that he will host on Parliament Hill on Thursday, February 24, to engage parliamentarians in further conversation on the subject of marriage.

In China, where he is leading a trade delegation, Prime Minister Martin Sunday repeated a threat he made on Friday (story) that he could call a snap election over gay marriage.

Martin said that if his minority Liberals lose a free vote on same-sex marriage it would not necessarily lead to an election call, but, if the Conservatives attempt to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution he would see it as a confidence motion. If the Tories won that, Martin said, the government would fall.

Martin said that if Conservative leader Stephen Harper wants to ensure marriage in Canada remains between a man a woman, he would have to over-ride the Charter of Rights.

“ The only way that that option can be realized is if, in fact, you use the notwithstanding clause. Stephen Harper has got to come clean and tell Canadians the truth—there are no other options,” Martin told reporters.

“I will not allow the rights of Canadians to be taken away and I will make that—the use of the notwithstanding clause—a motion of confidence,” Martin said at a news conference in Hong Kong.

Harper remains coy on the use of the clause, which allows a government to opt out of any section of the Constitution with which it disagrees.

“The prime minister keeps talking about the notwithstanding clause and legal mumbo jumbo because he doesn’t want to face the marriage issue,” Harper from Vancouver.

But, if the government fell Harper said he would be comfortable campaigning on a traditional definition of marriage. Tory ads are already exploiting the wedge issue.

If the government’s gay marriage bill were defeated in Parliament it would not affect the rights of same-sex couples to wed in areas of Canada where the courts have ruled in favor. But, gay couples in the other regions would have to go to court to challenge the existing law. In every area where gay marriage has come before the courts same-sex couples have won.

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