Bishops call for free vote on marriage

By  Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
  • December 6, 2006
Same Sex MarriageOTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged a completely free vote on a motion on whether to reopen the debate on marriage, one that would allow politicians to vote "in accordance with their conscience" on marriage.

Debate on the motion, "That this house call on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions, and while respecting existing same sex marriages," began on Dec. 6.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) had called on all Catholics to contact their MPs in advance of the vote, that, according to house rules would take place with minimum debate.

The resolution was expected to be voted on Dec. 6 after The Register's press deadline. While the Conservatives promised to have a free vote and the Liberals were leaning in that direction, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP said they would force their MPs to vote against the resolution.

"The Roman and Eastern Catholic Bishops of Canada uphold the exclusive union of a man and a woman as central to marriage, and thus cannot accept the civil redefinition as the union of any two persons," said a Nov. 30 statement signed by CCCB President Archbishop Andre Gaumond. "Our conviction is shared by many other Canadians from all religious traditions as well as those who hold no religious faith.

"Our society needs to do more to encourage the committed relationship of man and woman which remains so basic to all civilizations, and has proven to be the best support for the rights and needs of children....

"As the keystone of society, the family is the most favourable environment in which to welcome children," the bishops' statement said. "At the same time, freedom of conscience and religion needs to be ensured, while also respecting the dignity of all persons, whatever their sexual orientation."

COLF director Michele Boulva said, "We feel that last year Bill C-38 was adopted hastily and not enough thought was given to the impact of such a major change to one of society's fundamental institutions, specifically the impact on children." She noted that COLF had written all MPs in September urging the reopening of the marriage debate.

Newly elected Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said he would vote against reopening the debate.

"To me it's a matter of the Charter of Rights," he told journalists Dec. 4 following his first Liberal caucus meeting as leader. "You don't pick and choose rights. It's also a matter of abusing the House because I don't see how the minister of justice will end up with a law that is constitutional the way the motion is phrased."

Dion discussed the issue with colleagues about whether he would force Liberal MPs to toe the party line. The Liberals have traditionally allowed MPs to vote their consciences on moral issues. There are a number of socially conservative Liberals who would balk at a "whipped" vote. He said he was leaning toward a free vote.

When same-sex marriage Bill C-38 passed in June 2005, Liberal cabinet ministers were forced to support the government bill, though backbenchers could vote their conscience. The New Democratic Party also forced its members to support the bill, disciplining the one NDP MP who voted against it.

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