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Next Steps - The EFC Comments to Supporters on the Redefinition of Marriage

7/21/05

Bill C-38 has become law in Canada.

As Canadians, it is a time to lament this fundamental change in the public meaning of marriage. We have all lost an important shared understanding of marriage as the exclusive and enduring union of one man and one woman. Foremost, children have lost society’s ideal and practical commitment to them that they grow up knowing a mother and a father in a committed relationship. The full consequences for spouses and for children will not be known for at least a generation.

It is time to pause, consider what has been lost and pray that God will be gracious to us and will teach us how to respond wisely, as we seek to be His faithful servants.

The debate about the structure and nature of marriage and its religious significance prompted public discussion over the place of faith in politics and the role of the church in a plural society. Bill C-38 is symbolic of an ongoing shift in Canadian’s understanding of the place and role of the church and, more generally, of religion in Canadian society.

Nevertheless, this shift, while changing the context of ministry, affords us an opportunity to consider yet again how it is we wish to be present and engage in a society that is increasingly constructivist in its understanding of the meaning and value of life, and in the nature of institutions. In fact, the same values that drove the debate on the redefinition of marriage will drive the forthcoming debate on euthanasia and how we care for the vulnerable in our midst.

This debate raised the level of participation of Christians in the Parliamentary process. Many petitioned, wrote and called their Member of Parliament, including some who have never participated before. As a result many Canadians and politicians paused to think again about the true meaning of marriage. And we were able to successfully secure some important amendments that will provide us with some legal protections (below). Now more than ever we must recommit ourselves to speaking the truth in love and walking in compassion.

The role of the EFC

In this debate over marriage, our strategy was first to oppose the redefinition of marriage and second to ensure that if marriage was redefined, there would be provisions made to ensure we could continue to perform and celebrate marriages consistent with our beliefs.

Throughout, we have sought to promote faithfully the biblical norm of marriage in the public square. We took every possible opportunity to oppose the redefinition of marriage.

We are a people of faith, not a people of fear. We have not engaged in fear mongering but have realistically tried to assess potential future religious freedom implications and to ensure that there were some protections for religious freedom – both before the Supreme Court and in Parliament — so that there would be legal and public space for Evangelicals to be accommodated in our practice and understanding of marriage. We have had some success in attaining protection for religious freedom at the federal level and continue to work at the provincial level.

We focused on religious freedom in our submissions to the Supreme Court. In its opinion in the Marriage Reference, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Charter protects religious officials from being compelled by government action to marry couples in contravention of their religious convictions or beliefs. The court also said that sacred places, which we interpret to mean places of worship, would also be protected under the Charter. Thus, we will not be compelled to allow churches to be used for the celebration of the same-sex marriage. This was a unanimous opinion and it is highly unlikely the court, with its current composition of judges, would rule contrary to this opinion. However, the Supreme Court also made it clear that the solemnization of marriage is a provincial responsibility and that provincial legislation should reflect these protections. If provincial governments refuse to legislate to protect religious freedom, our rights and freedoms will have to be decided through court cases.

The Supreme Court did not comment on other religious freedom issues such as those in the area of education. The court acknowledged that equality rights claims may conflict with claims of religious freedom of conscience resulting in what they referred to as a “collision of rights.”

When introduced, Bill C-38 did not offer any protection for religious freedom in areas of the federal jurisdiction. We worked with a Bloc MP as well as Liberal and Conservative MPs to include an amendment we drafted to specifically protect the charitable status of organizations which oppose same-sex marriage. As well, lawyer David Brown, who has represented The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in a number of cases, recommended a broad amendment which would ensure that there would be no penalty for persons or organizations in matters of federal jurisdiction if they opposed same-sex marriage. We also recommended this amendment and encouraged other witnesses who appeared before the committee to promote it is well. A version of this amendment was included in the legislation along with a clause in the preamble which states that it is not contrary to the public interest to promote an alternative view of marriage.

Nevertheless, we still have serious concerns about the consequences for religious freedom of this legislation in areas of provincial jurisdiction. We were able to comment on the religious freedom protection in the Ontario legislation, Bill 171, before it was introduced. We are already working with politicians in Alberta to ensure that that province has clear and comprehensive protections. We will continue to encourage other provinces to enact legislation. As well, we are working on a strategy to assist Evangelicals in working with school boards as we anticipate increasing demands that curriculum affirm the moral equivalence of same-sex relationships to the marriage of a man and a woman.

How can pastors respond?

We recognize that there are differences of opinion as to how clergy should respond to the redefinition of marriage. Some pastors will decide no longer to register the marriages they perform with provincial governments. We are aware of some who will publicly state this and will destroy the provincial permits authorizing them to solemnized marriages. The EFC treats this as a matter of faith, conscience and prudential judgment, as do all of the ministry leaders I have discussed this with. Those planning to undertake this course of action are doing so as a matter of protest to the new definition of marriage and do not wish to be seen to be supportive or complicit in it.

Others will continue to register marriages with the province as they interpret this as an indication that the provincial government accepts the religious marriages they perform as legally binding. Some argue that the decision to opt out is a concession to the government that the religious and civil dimensions of marriage can be separated, and that the government can presume to redefine an institution it did not create but merely recognized.

All I have talked to say that if one clergy is legally compelled to marry a couple contrary to the convictions of the clergy, they will discontinue the practice of filing marriages with the provincial government.

Pastors who choose to not register the marriages they perform with the province should give thought to the advice they will give to the couples they are marrying. In particular, if they encourage the couples to not be married civilly then they should inform the couple about the legal implications of the decision. In some provinces the couple can enter into a domestic contract. In other provinces, they would be treated as a common law couple in which case there is no legal recognition for a period of time. In some provinces, it is currently illegal for a pastor to marry a couple in a religious ceremony if the couple has not already had a valid civil marriage.

I would recommend you read a piece written by Professor Doug Farrow of McGill University on the implications of redefining marriage and the question of protest. (How and Why Canadians Should Refuse to Recognize Bill C-38)

Next steps

As we have previously stated, the EFC will continue to promote marriage as the exclusive and enduring union of one man and one woman, and use the language of husband and wife.

We will continue to promote the covenantal nature of marriage. We have developed a website (www.covenantmarriage.ca) which brings together resources for pastors, Christian couples and marriage counsellors on marriage as a covenant. 

We are deeply concerned that in Canada, as has been the experience of other countries which treat marriage as simply a close personal relationship, rates of marriage will decline, and more children will be raised without both a mother and a father. We encourage churches to continue to assist and care for lone parent families and children without parents.    

We will also promote legislation and policies that strengthen marriage. We believe the divorce laws need to be revisited. More broadly, we believe we all must promote a culture that respects and fosters fidelity rather than sensationalizes infidelity.

And we will work towards the day when Canada will reinstate man/woman marriage as a distinct and legally recognized relationship.

The freedom to be faithful to our religious beliefs and our convictions in our professional lives, in our communities, in our institutions and in pubic discourse is already at risk, as evidenced by several human rights complaints and court cases that are challenging these basic freedoms. We are committed to ensuring that where ever possible a strong defence of religious freedom is made in these cases.

In all, we will continue to be faithful to our religious convictions and, notwithstanding the passage of this bill or the decisions of the courts, to celebrate and promote marriage – only, as the exclusive union of one man and one woman. 

Personally, I wish to thank all of those who prayed for us and participated in this debate with respect and grace. We thank God for His faithfulness and sustaining love.

In His service,

Bruce J. Clemenger
President

Issue: Marriage & Family

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Protecting Religious Freedom 
Federal/Provincial Jurisdiction


Issue: Marriage & Family

Current Status
Statistics
What You Can Do
Resources

Printer-friendly Version

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.

Chronology

EFC Statement "What Is Marriage?"

Developing Church Policies on Marriage Handbook

EFC President Responds to Civil Marriage Act

   
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