Christian groups respond to Canadian court's redefining of marriage
The Ontario Superior Court ruled yesterday that Canada's legal definition of marriage—"the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman"—is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and violates homosexuals' human rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The restriction against same-sex marriage is an offense to the dignity of lesbians and gays because it limits the range of relationship options available to them," wrote Justice Harry LaForme. "The result is they are denied the autonomy to choose whether they wish to marry. This in turn conveys the ominous message that they are unworthy of marriage. … I find that there is no merit to the argument that the rights and interests of heterosexuals would be affected by granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry. I cannot conclude that freedom of religion would be threatened or jeopardized by legally sanctioning same-sex marriage."
The new definition of marriage, at least in Ontario, is now "the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others."
It's the latest in a series of Canadian court decisions supporting gay marriage. Last month, the British Columbia Court of Appeal also ruled that the definition of marriage must be changed, but gave the government until July 12, 2004, to do it. A Quebec Superior Court judge issued a similar ruling last fall. But yesterday's ruling in Ontario offered no grace period for the government—homosexual marriages were instantly legal. They took place almost as instantly, as dozens of couples raced to be among the first.
The court decision legalizes two homosexual marriages from January 2001 that occurred at a Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, but the first new marriage was that of prosecutor Michael Leshner and Michael Stark. "Today is the death of homophobia in the courtroom as we know it," said Leshner.
It's the death of something, agreed Christian groups in Canada and the U.S.
"This change in the common law is not an incremental step—today the court has fundamentally redefined marriage," said Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. "Other courts have ruled that redefining marriage is too big a step to be made by the courts and should properly be made by Parliament. … The redefinition of marriage will reduce it to a commitment between two people, and there are many relationships in society which would meet the new definition. Marriage will lose its distinctiveness."
Clemenger is particular dismayed with the court's reasoning. "Nowhere else in the world has a court ruled the heterosexual definition of marriage violates human rights," he said. "It is not an appropriate use of the Charter to redefine pre-existing social, cultural and religious institutions. Section 15 of the Charter is to protect persons from discriminatory actions of the government, not to fundamentally refashion a basic institution like marriage."
Clemenger is also concerned that churches that don't recognize same-sex marriages and refuse to perform them will face discrimination.
They already are, says Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America. "If you're a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim, your beliefs are under direct attack in Canada right now," she said. "This puts a true understanding of marriage on the wrong side of the law."
Focus on the Family Canada vice president Derek Rogusky focuses his complaint on judicial activism, saying it makes public opinion and political debate irrelevant. "We'll be urging the federal Minister of Justice to appeal this decision so that the participation of thousands of Canadians will not have been a meaningless exercise," he promised. The justice minister, Martin Cauchon, will soon announce today whether the federal government will appeal.
More on sexual ethics:
- Religion a force in gay marriage debate | Those who would cordon off marriage as a heterosexuals-only club and those who seek to fling open the marital doors to gay and lesbian couples are using familiar and novel arguments to sway the SJC and public opinion (The Boston Globe)
- Grappling with gay marriage | Municipalities, churches from east to west consider new rules, laws (Associated Press)
- A lesbian Lutheran in the pulpit | Despite her church's ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian pastors, Mary Albing was appointed by a Minneapolis congregation (The Advocate [a gay magazine])
- Evangelicals try to oust gay bishop | A delegation of evangelicals from the diocese of Oxford is to meet the bishop, Richard Harries, tomorrow to try to force the rescinding of the appointment of the first openly gay bishop in the Church of England (The Guardian, London)
- Also: Evangelical joins growing CoE revolt (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Also: Bishop urges gay rights clergyman to step down (Ananova)
- Also: Gay bishop has the 'right gifts for job' | The senior clergyman who nominated a homosexual to be the Bishop of Reading yesterday defended his actions as he spoke out against "cruel homophobia" within the Church of England (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Also: Archbishop supported bishop over gay affair | The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, was the theology college principal who "congratulated" Dr Jeffrey John on becoming involved in a homosexual relationship (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Justice department permits its gay employees to use headquarters for annual celebration | Reports last week that the department had forced the cancellation of an annual employee event celebrating Gay Pride Month had led to mixed reactions (The New York Times)
- Also: Justice Dept. draws heavy criticism over cancelled gay rights event | Democrats and civil rights advocates condemned the Justice Department for barring a gay pride event planned by department employees (The New York Times)
- Poland to fight for God in E.U. Constitution | Future European Union member Poland said Tuesday it would insist the bloc's Constitutional Treaty make reference to Christian values, siding with the views of Polish-born Pope John Paul II (Reuters)
- The church urges Zambians to join fight against corruption | Three Christian church mother-bodies yesterday made a clarion call to all patriotic Zambians to join the fight against corruption (The Post, Zambia)
- Also: Churches call for govt | The three church mother bodies have called on Government to seriously consider a Government of national unity if the current political tension in the nation is to be eased (The Times of Zambia)
- President Museveni tells church to keep out of politics | Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox bishops have called for opposition to third term (The Monitor, Kampala, Uganda)
- Canada's high court debates criminalizing spanking | A Toronto-based foundation is challenging the law that allows parents and teachers to exercise "reasonable" force to correct a child (Reuters)
- Fears for India's secularism | Recent laws outlawing forced religious conversions in two Indian states are creating growing controversy (BBC)
U.S. Politics and law:
- County Councilman Hammond denies he's extremist | It was God who told newly appointed Steve Hammond to become a politician, he wrote in a 2000 campaign letter (The Seattle Times)
- Is evangelicals' influence increasing on the local level? | Evangelicals' increasing national prominence in political and social arenas has been widely reported, but their growing presence is also affecting life in communities across the country (Religion Newswriters Association)
- At assembly, North Carolina's Lutherans vote to oppose lottery | Members also call for economic justice (The Charlotte Observer)
- Record Ala. tax plan passes legislature | Package passes legislature, but voters have final say (Associated Press)
Church and state:
- Teacher fights for right to teach religion after school | The district argues it would give the impression that the school system favors a particular religion, since the teacher would be evangelizing on school property (Fox News)
- Christian group accused of deception in school visits | Mike Hagen Strength Team gave demonstrations at Parker elementary schools, focusing on character-building issues. But parents and school officials said cards handed out at two of the schools promoted a larger religious event (New Haven Register, Conn.)
- Blinking Jesus sign a beacon of debate | With a $1,000-a-day fine hanging over his head, Bob Foor says he will go to court before removing the sign (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
- Church files suit over downtown De Pere building | Church alleges violations of federal religious land-use law (The Green Bay News-Chronicle, Wisc.)
- Also: Church sues De Pere over its refusal to allow services in ex-storefront (Green Bay Press-Gazette)
- N.C. House approves bill for student grants at religious schools | About 250 students who attend two accredited religious colleges would receive cash grants to help pay for tuition in a bill tentatively approved by the House even after several members questioned its constitutionality (Associated Press)
Missions and ministries:
- Program reaches out to inmates | Counseling class gives women power to choose (The Tennessean, Nashville)
- Pastor on 15-year quest to record Bible in sign language | Eiji Matsumoto, 40, has embarked on a first: translating the Old and New Testaments, totaling 2,000 pages in Japanese, into Japanese sign language for a 104-hour recording on videotape and DVD (The Japan Times)
- Spiritual journey takes walker 5,300 miles, so far | It was Feb. 2, 2002, when Don Vermilyea began hiking west out of Tucson (Associated Press)
- Promise Keepers prepares for Peoria event | Persistence of local leaders pays off with sold-out Civic Center conference (Peoria Journal Star, Ill.)
- Penitentiary performance | Champions for Life, a prison ministry featuring athletes and performers, visits El Dorado inmates (The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)
- Banding behind bars | Faith-based dorms aim to give inmates hope in prison and out (The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.)
- Evangelicals in Korea poised to move north | At Asia's largest church, fundraising and renderings of churches to be be rebuilt (The Christian Science Monitor)
- Bid to save explorer's African base | A charity is appealing for funds to help save the crumbling African home of explorer Dr David Livingstone (BBC)
Persecution and violence:
- Mob attacks church in Chhattisgarh | Villagers allege that locals here are being forced by the Church to convert to Christianity (NDTV, India)
- Church attacked, priests manhandled in Durg | Five priests threatened of dire consequences if they continued their prayer meetings in the village Church (Hindustan Times)
- Group: Chinese Christian beaten in jail | Friends and relatives of Gong Shengliang, who was convicted on charges of rape and assault and is serving a life sentence, say he is passing blood and has lost his hearing (Associated Press)
- Death toll in Nigerian riot town rises to eight | The murder of a Christian evangelist triggered weekend sectarian riots in Numan in which mosques and houses were torched (Reuters)
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