Faith leaders bring marriage declaration to Parliament Hill

By  Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
  • November 20, 2006
OTTAWA - More than 40 religious leaders from all the major faiths have signed an historic Declaration on Marriage, affirming its crucial role as a heterosexual social institution for the procreation and nurturing of children.

In advance of a promised vote in Parliament, the leaders urged politicians to reopen the debate on marriage in a way that treats all sides respectfully.

"Marriage is a most important state in life, because on it depends the future of the human race," said Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais at a news conference Nov. 9. Marriage not only guarantees the procreation of offspring, but the best quality of upbringing, he said.

Gervais recognized the hatred and bigotry people with same-sex attractions face and said the church requires the avoidance of any unjust discrimination against them.

"I completely support this teaching," he said. "But let's call marriage what it is — marriage, and this other reality another designation.

"Our appeal today is that law and public policy recognize the essential and unique importance of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for the security, nurturing and well-being of children. The best interest of the child must prevail over adult's exercise of their liberty."

Evangelical Fellowship of Canada president Bruce Clemenger said same-sex marriage legislation was passed in 2005 without adequate study. He noted that a previous government's House of Commons justice committee had done extensive research but the report was never presented to Parliament. Instead, former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin referred several questions to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The justice committee report recommended other options, such as retaining the traditional definition of marriage but offering a domestic partnership option for same-sex couples, or of having the state get out of the marriage business altogether, Clemenger said. These other options were never seriously examined.

Gervais objected to the way the legislation was "pushed through very quickly," without allowing for serious public discussion or the review of the research of other countries. The leaders also objected to the tone of the previous debate, which Clemenger said devolved into rhetoric and five-second sound bites.

"We need to go past the period of name-calling which I and others were subjected to," Gervais said. When he made a presentation on behalf of the CCCB before a legislative committee in 2005, an MP mocked the ideas as coming from the age of the Flintstones.

Clemenger said people who opposed same-sex marriage were called "unCanadian," and anti-charter, even though at least 50 per cent of Canadians did not want marriage redefined. He urged a debate that went beyond winners and losers. Both Clemenger and Gervais agreed the churches were losers under the present law, and said the implications for religious freedom could be dire.

"It boils down to what are we going to be allowed to say in our schools with impunity," Gervais said. He wondered whether Catholic schools will be able to teach children about the importance of traditional marriage without being accused of being hateful.

"We don't know what direction this will take 10 or 20 years from now, but I doubt we'll be able to say what we're obliged to say," Gervais said.

Clemenger said there need not be a clash between church and state on the marriage issue, especially if it is recognized that both institutions have a vital role to play in civil society. He pointed out that nowhere does the charter define terms such as freedom. Underlying those undefined terms are societal norms and churches play a key role in the development of those norms.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.