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Canada Braces for a Social Tsunami

2/6/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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Bill Introduced to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

OTTAWA, FEB. 6, 2005 (Zenit) - Canada's federal government tabled a draft law in Parliament this week that would introduce marriage for same-sex couples. The move follows a series of legal decisions in provinces allowing same-sex couples to marry. The matter was then referred to the Canadian Supreme Court, which in a decision last December handed over responsibility to the federal government, recommending that the law be changed.

Prime Minister Paul Martin and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler presented the legislation "as a natural and necessary evolution of minority-rights protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," the newspaper Globe and Mail reported Wednesday.

The bill, which when approved would be known as the Civil Marriage Act, redefines marriage as "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others." The government has tried to allay fears of religious groups by including in the legislation a provision that says "officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs."

Opposition to the bill from many churches has been fierce, however. A Jan. 31 letter to the Canadian prime minister from Archbishop Brendan O'Brien, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated that the prelates "stand united in their opposition to legislation that would redefine marriage in such a way that it is no longer recognized as the unique, essential and fundamental relationship of a man and a woman."

"The conjugal partnership of a man and a woman constitutes a unique good for society, providing a stable and positive environment for children and thus for future generations," Archbishop O'Brien continued.

His letter also asked that Martin allow all the members of his party, including Cabinet ministers, to have a free vote on the issue, so as "to exercise their fundamental freedom of conscience and religion." Other letters were also sent to the leaders of the main political parties urging them to oppose the legislation.

The common good

Many of Canada's Catholic bishops have also made declarations on the issue. Vancouver Archbishop Raymond Roussin, in a pastoral letter dated Jan. 28, stated: "Marriage has always been recognized as the necessary context for raising and educating children, the foundation of future generations. The reality of marriage is that it supersedes politics and man-made laws."

The letter noted that some are defending the move to extend marriage to homosexual couples in the basis of human rights. But Archbishop Roussin insisted: "This is not a human rights issue, it is about recognizing the biological basis for the social structure that protects the procreation and nurturing of children in our society."

He also rejected the argument that allowing same-sex couples to marry is needed in order to demonstrate tolerance. Such a move "is a false tolerance." He observed: "The procreative potential of marriage is a basic element of what marriage is, and it is not unjust to insist that marriage is a complementary union of a man and a woman."

Another argument used to justify extending marriage is the idea that we need to adapt institutions to keep pace with social changes. In fact, this was a point of view adopted by the Supreme Court in its decision last December, noted the Vancouver prelate. However, "The question is whether the development is legitimate," he argued.

We should treat all people with dignity and respect, just as Jesus taught us, Archbishop Roussin said. But he added: "Jesus did not teach that any behavior is acceptable as long as someone wants it. The authentic Jesus called for moral conversion, and repentance."

Critical threshold

On Jan. 22 Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, published a letter on the issue of same-sex marriage. "We now find ourselves before a critical threshold in the evolution of society and culture, and we must reflect very seriously before crossing it," he said.

Extending the status of marriage to same-sex couples, the Quebec prelate wrote, is a change that "affects the most fundamental institution and the primary value of society: marriage and family, which have existed throughout human history and predate the state and the law themselves."

Changing marriage in this way "would alter the institution of marriage by ignoring two of its essential finalities: the procreation and education of children, within the context of the love of a man and a woman, guarantee the future of society."

Cardinal Quellet also pointed out that the bill "is offensive to the moral and religious sensibility of a great number of citizens, both Catholic and non-Catholic. In fact, ...

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