Legislation aims to protect religious from same-sex challenges

By  Catholic Register Staff
  • October 5, 2006

TORONTO - The federal government is planning to introduce a Defence of Religions Act to protect from legal harassment those who challenge same-sex marriage or refuse to participate in such ceremonies.

The Globe and Mail reported Oct. 4 that the federal Justice Minister Vic Toews is preparing such legislation in case the House of Commons rejects a motion to reopen the debate over the legal definition of marriage.

That motion is expected to come before the House before it closes for Christmas.

Several incidents over the last few years, particularly since the legal definition of marriage was changed in 2005 to include same-sex couples, highlight the concern among many religious groups that their constitutional freedoms will be eroded. While religious officials are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, civil marriage commissioners in most provinces have been told they must perform same-sex marriages regardless of their personal religious beliefs. And some opponents have been punished with fines or public reprimands for publicly opposing same-sex marriage.

In British Columbia, a Knights of Columbus council was slapped with a $2,000 fee after it refused to rent its hall to a same-sex couple for a wedding. Although the Knights were cleared of any wrongdoing, the provincial human rights tribunal insisted they must pay for the inconvenience to the couple.

In Alberta, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry had two human rights complaints filed against him for preaching against same-sex marriage in pastoral letters to Catholics. Both complaints were later withdrawn.

The Globe reported unnamed sources as saying the new legislation would clarify constitutional rights regarding religious believers. In a Supreme Court of Canada opinion released in October 2004, the court recognized that such rights could clash with the "right" to same-sex marriage, and it would be up to the courts to clarify how religious rights will be protected.

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