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What will be the impact of same-sex marriage on religious freedom?

Even before the legislation passed to redefine marriage, there were early warnings that there would be consequences on freedom of religion and freedom of expression. A lesbian couple brought a human rights complaint against a Knights of Columbus group for refusing to rent their hall, for example. Teacher Chris Kempling was disciplined by the B.C. College of Teachers for opposing the way homosexuality was taught in the classroom.

Now that marriage has been redefined, those who stand against the redefinition face social ostracization. When Dr. Margaret Somerville received an honorary doctorate from Ryerson University, for example, some of the faculty turned their backs and carried signs opposing her on the basis that she expressed conerns about the impact on children of redefining marriage. Anyone who supports the historic definition of marriage is labelled a "homophobe" and a "bigot."

We do not yet know how far these trends will go but the following shows some of the areas where those who support the historic definition of marriage may not be protected.

Religious Freedom

The government included protection for religious freedom for clergy in Bill C-38, the legislation redefining marriage. But the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that any provision in the federal bill to protect religious freedom for clergy is invalid. The federal Parliament does not have the jurisdiction (ability to legislate) on this under the Constitution Act, 1867. Rather, it is provincial governments that must pass legislation ensuring clergy and other people involved with weddings, such as marriage commissioners, people who issue marriage licences, those who provide various services to weddings – from caterers and those who rent halls to florists, photographers and musicians, will be protected.

The Supreme Court did say that in their opinion, the Charter guarantee of religious freedom would protect clergy and churches from being compelled to participate in same-sex marriages. But we do not believe that a church should have to be taken to court to enforce this right. Provincial governments ought to make this clear in legislation before churches and other wedding service providers are forced to defend their Charter Rights in court.

The Ontario government passed legislation (Bill 171) that offers religious freedom protection to clergy and their properties, but not to civic officials who have religious objections to same-sex marriage. In B.C., Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Manitoba marriage commissioners are already being compelled to perform same-sex marriages or lose their jobs. New Brunswick introduced legislation, Bill 76, that died on the Order Paper and has not reintroduced it. Ted Morton, MLA, introduced Bill 208 to protect religious freedom in Alberta but it did not pass.

While clergy and churches will not likely be required to participate in same-sex marriages, others do not have religious freedom. Civil marriage officials in several provinces have been told that they must solemnize same-sex marriages or resign. Several have made complaints to their provincial human rights commissions but these have so far refused to even consider the complaints. As well, those who issue marriage licenses have been told that they must issue them to same-sex couples or lose their jobs. These are grey areas right now. The courts may rule that Charter protection for religious freedom applies to these situations.

It is less likely that individual Christian business owners who are involved in the wedding industry -- florists, photographers, musicians and caterers -- have any protection for their religious freedom. If approached by a gay or lesbian couple to provide services for their wedding, business owners cannot claim religious objections that would allow them to refuse to provide the services. If they do refuse, they could face a complaint under provincial human rights legislation.

A British Columbia human rights tribunal agreed that the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's organization, had the right to refuse to rent their hall for a lesbian wedding reception. This is the first case to consider facilities use.


Teachers with religious convictions who believe in traditional marriage are already finding themselves pushed aside. It has been suggested that religious schools should not receive government funding if they teach that same-sex marriage is wrong.

The British Columbia Parents and Teachers for Life (BCPTL) released a statement outlining their concern with the impact the redefinition of marriage will have on education. They note that in the case of Chamberlain v. the Surrey School Board, the Supreme Court of Canada mandated that schools inculcate the concept that families headed by same-sex parents are equivalent to families headed by a mother and father.

The British Columbia government recently settled a human rights complaint launched by two gay teachers (who are married to one another) complaining about the "heterosexist bias" in the curriculum. As part of the settlement, the B.C. government is developing a grade 12 course on "social justice," that will include sexual orientation issues, as well as examining the full curriculum for such bias. It has given the complainants, the Correns, a right of oversight of the curriculum. Many parents are justifiably concerned that public schools will indoctrinate their children in beliefs that are contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs.

The BCPTL has posted a form letter to Members of Parliament on their web site that you can use to express your concerns about the potential effect of the redefinition of marriage on education. It is available at www.bcptl.org/marriage.htm#letter.

Social consequences

Redefining marriage changes our normative understanding of husband/wife and mother/father. It has the potential to change the whole understanding and meaning of marriage in our society. Words have meaning.

The social consequences of redefining marriage have not been fully examined, though evidence from countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands that have adopted same-sex marriage legislation suggests that the result has been a further erosion of marriage, with marriage rates declining and cohabitation rates rising, and consequently, sharp rises in the number of children born out of wedlock. In these countries, as in Canada, marriage was already threatened – suffering from the no-fault divorce law and the legal recognition of common-law relationships – and the implementation of same-sex marriage served to bring about what Hoover Institute Fellow Stanley Kurtz refers to as the ‘end of marriage.’


Issue: Marriage & Family

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Protecting Religious Freedom 
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Helpful Links

Marriage Declaration signed by 50 Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Christian as well as Muslim Leaders in defense of the traditional definition of marriage. Disponible en francais.


EFC Statement "What Is Marriage?"

Developing Church Policies on Marriage Handbook

EFC President Responds to Civil Marriage Act

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