Same-sex marriage is on the way to enshrinement in Canadian law following the government’s decision yesterday not to appeal a provincial court’s ruling that allowed homosexuals to be wed.
Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien will file a bill within weeks that would make Canada only the third country to sanction same-sex matrimony, along with Belgium and the Netherlands.
“There is an evolution of society,” Chretien said in making the announcement.
Last week, Toronto began issuing ‘gay’ marriage licenses after an Ontario court set aside the heterosexual definition of marriage as unconstitutional.
Chr?tien emphasized the bill will allow religious groups to refuse to perform same-sex weddings.
“What is important for me is the freedom of the churches to interpret according to their faith,” he said, according to the National Post.
However, evangelical groups, who oppose same-sex marriage, say they will keep a close eye on that aspect of the bill, particularly since the right of religious exemption was not addressed in the Ontario court’s ruling.
“We are deeply concerned that the effect of the redefinition will be to begin a process of marginalization for many churches and their clergy who currently participate in the civil registration of marriage,” said Bruce Clemenger of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, an umbrella group for churches.
Clemenger charged that by conceding the issue, the government has allowed the court to unilaterally alter “an institution of vital social significance.”
“Despite the existence of bills of rights in most Western countries, not one has ruled that the recognition of marriage as being the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others is unconstitutional or in violation of any norm of human rights,” Clemenger said.
The United Church of Canada, a mainline Protestant church, has said it would perform ceremonies for same-sex couples.
Vancouver’s Anglican bishop, Michael Ingham, has allowed six of his parishes to perform ceremonies blessing same-sex relationships, although the world’s national Anglican churches reaffirmed their rejection of such blessings.
Licenses now available
The government’s decision not to appeal the Ontario ruling to the Supreme Court means the province can continue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said homosexuals in other provinces must wait, but some constitutional scholars believe they have a case for getting a license now, the National Post reported.
“It seems to me that someone in another province would be able to get a court order on the basis that the government is conceding,” said Patrick Monahan, a constitutional expert at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.
Toronto lawyer Martha McCarthy said if she had a client in British Columbia or Manitoba, “I would be slamming down the door of the city clerk’s office to make sure I got a license.”
Svend Robinson, a self-described homosexual member of the House of Commons, predicted that with the support of the federal cabinet, the bill will easily pass Parliament.
“I feel very proud as a Canadian to live in a country that has sent such a clear signal to gay and lesbian people,” he said.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Robinson has sponsored a controversial bill that would add sexual orientation as a protected category in Canada’s genocide and hate crimes legislation. A vote on the bill has been delayed until the fall session of Parliament.