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Protecting Religious Freedom

What will be the impact of same-sex marriage? 

Religious Freedom

The government has promised that religious freedom for clergy will be protected under the legislation redefining marriage (Bill C-38 ). 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.

While clergy and churches are will likely not 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. A Knights of Columbus group, a Catholic men's organization, faced a human rights complaint in British Columbia after refusing to rent their hall, located on church property, to a lesbian couple for their wedding celebration. Although the Tribunal ruled that the Knights of Columbus did not have to rent out their hall for events contrary to their religious beliefs, they were nevertheless fined "for injury to the lesbian couple's dignity, feelings and self-respect".

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.


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. This was mandated in the absence of federal law recognizing same-sex marriage. They raise the very important question of how much more likely it will be that courts will mandate that all schools teach acceptance of same-sex marriage and same-sex headed families now that Bill C-38 is passed.

At stake is the freedom of faith-based educational institutions to continue to teach and uphold traditional marriage, as well as the individual religious freedoms of teachers in public schools who may be forced to teach acceptance of same-sex unions. Many are already finding that is the case. Also at stake is the right of parents to determine how and what message their children are hearing about marriage and same-sex relationships.

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 government is hurrying down an unknown path. It has not taken the time to explore the long term consequences of choosing this path rather than others. 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 
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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