Bishops vow continued fight for marriage

By  Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
  • December 18, 2006
 OTTAWA - Canada's Catholic bishops say the marriage debate is not over, despite the "disappointing" loss of a House of Commons motion to restore the traditional definition.

Members of Parliament voted down the motion Dec. 7 by 175 to 123.

"For Catholics, marriage is an issue intimately related to human nature which has been created male and female," said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) president Archbishop André Gaumond in a statement following the vote. "Catholic teaching on this remains consistent and constant: marriage is the exclusive union of one man and one woman. It is essential for all Canadians to continue this debate, despite the recent decision of the House of Commons."

Gaumond urged Catholics to continue to encourage marriage as the special relationship between a man and a woman; to urge the federal government to do more research on the implications of marriage redefinition on society; and to monitor provincial legislation and policies that might interfere with freedom of religion, conscience and expression. He also called for Catholics to guard against any further legislative changes such as legalizing polygamy and to watch for threats to the charitable status of groups that hold the traditional view of marriage. He also called for efforts to ensure that traditional marriage is respected in the schools.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, considers the debate closed.

"We made a promise to have a free vote on this issue, we kept that promise, and obviously the vote was decisive and obviously we'll accept the democratic result of the people's representatives," Harper told journalists following the vote. "I don't see reopening this question in the future."

Harper also said he had no plans for legislation to protect religious freedom.

"If there ever were a time in the future where fundamental freedoms were threatened, of course the government would respond to protect them," he said.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said the marriage debate would be "officially over" if he were elected prime minister. He painted opponents of same-sex marriage as opponents of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and anti-human rights, though he did allow a free vote after musing about "whipping" or forcing the Liberal caucus to vote against the motion. The Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic MPs were forced to vote against it.

The CCCB called for all political leaders to protect the right of MPs to vote their conscience on moral issues "particularly those issues that impact on the fundamental rights of freedom of religion and conscience, such as the definition of marriage."

The CCCB joins many other groups that maintain the debate is not over, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Family Action Coalition and the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), among others.

"The time has come for more education and for a stronger witness from loving, heterosexual married couples," said COLF director Michele Boulva. "We face the same challenges as the first Christians. We need to roll up our sleeves and present to the world the extraordinary vision of marriage that we have as Catholics. "

The Catholic Civil Rights League warned of threats to religious freedom, to public education and to the conscience rights of business owners and marriage commissioners not wishing to participate in same-sex ceremonies.

"The League will continue to express its support for traditional marriage in our work with Parliament, courts and the media, and we will continue to help those who find themselves penalized for the peaceful expression views on marriage that were considered mainstream until only a decade ago, and that continue to be the norm in most of the Western world," said League president Phil Horgan, noting the marginalizing effect the "gay rights agenda" has had on people and institutions who disagree with it.

Following the vote, former Liberal MP Pat O'Brien told journalists legislation can be revisited any time. He said supporters of traditional marriage will continue to ask candidates where they stand on the issue. He also said it could come up again in the form of a private member's bill. The executive director of Vote Marriage Canada said he will continue to work with a network of pro-marriage groups.

Thirteen Liberal MPs voted in favour of the motion, down from 36 who voted against  Bill C-38 in 2005. Thirteen Tories, including six cabinet ministers, voted against it.


Cardinal Ambrozic's statement

Cardinal AmbrozicEditor's note: The following statement from Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, archbishop of Toronto, on the same-sex marriage vote, was released Dec. 7.

Today we have seen that a majority of our elected officials have voted not to reopen the debate on the redefinition of civil marriage. Canadians should reflect carefully on the social consequences of these actions, considering the ramifications of a society that no longer recognizes the uniqueness and fundamental value to the lifelong union of a man and woman in marriage.

While the government at this time has chosen not to pursue further debate on the issue, the church continues, and will always continue to teach, celebrate and struggle for marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as a lifelong commitment for the mutual love of the spouses and open to the creation and rearing of children. As the keystone of society, the family is the most favourable environment in which to welcome children.

I give thanks to the thousands of individuals both in the archdiocese of Toronto and across the country, who have worked tirelessly to support traditional marriage. I am also grateful for the fine example of married couples who faithfully live out this sacrament each day.


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