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Developing Church Policies Introduction

A Note to Pastors on Marriage and the Law

Many pastors are concerned about what the current court decisions on marriage will mean for them. And this concern is legitimate. The definition of marriage impacts churches and clergy as pastors perform the majority of marriages in our country. In Canada, clergy conduct 75% of marriage ceremonies. Many pastors are concerned about their religious freedom to perform only marriage services that accord with biblical principles.

There is protection for religious freedom in law, in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, provincial human rights codes and elsewhere. In the 2004 Marriage Reference, the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that the Charter protects religious freedom for clergy.  The court said, “…absent unique circumstances with respect to which we will not speculate, the guarantee of religious freedom in s. 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same-sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.”

In addition, the court said that “sacred spaces” such as churches and church property are also protected under the religious freedom guarantee in the Charter. Churches will therefore not be compelled to rent their church facilities for the celebration of a wedding between two persons of the same sex.

That being said, it is important for pastors to clearly communicate to those who ask about marriage services that marriage is a religious service. If churches wish to be able to offer marriage to non-members, they should communicate to anyone making enquiries that marriage is a religious service and set up a procedure where those wishing to be married meet with the pastor to discuss whether this would be appropriate. It is also helpful for the church to have written policies (set out in constitutional documents) about its understanding of marriage.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is here for you. If you find yourself facing a serious challenge to your religious freedom, you are not alone. One of our goals is to provide advice to evangelicals on religious freedom issues.

Contact the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life office at 613-233-9868 ext. 225, or e-mail us at law@efc-canada.com.

The EFC has developed recommendations for steps that churches and denominations can take to protect religious freedom.

Proceed to the EFC Guide Developing Church Policy for Marriages Handbook.

Issue: Marriage & Family

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Protecting Religious Freedom 
Federal/Provincial Jurisdiction

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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