(CNSNews.com) - A spokesman for Canadian Catholic Bishops Tuesday said he was encouraged by news that nearly 50 liberal Members of Parliament (MPs) were opposed to legislation to legalize homosexual marriage throughout the nation.
Recently, courts in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia ruled that the traditional definition of marriage - one man and one woman - was discriminatory and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result, homosexual couples are now able to obtain marriage licenses in the two provinces.
The administration of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien did not appeal the rulings, instead submitting a bill before Parliament to legalize same-sex marriages nationwide. But according to the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, 48 Liberal Party MPs now oppose the measure. A Globe and Mail poll of Liberal MPs found that out of 170, 60 were in favor of the legislation and 27 undecided. Seven could not be reached, and 29 did not respond.
"As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, it is encouraging to see the number of Liberal members of Parliament who are prepared already to identify themselves so solidly in favor of the traditional and universal definition of marriage as the permanent union of a man and a woman," Bede Hubbard, associate general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), told CNSNews.com. "But there is still a lot of work to be done by Church organizations and other faith groups as well."
Hubbard said the Supreme Court of Canada has been asked to review the bill for its constitutionality, while opponents of same-sex marriage want the high court to review the lower court rulings in Ontario and British Columbia that struck down the traditional definition of marriage.
"It would seem like the Supreme Court of Canada will be addressing this question in the coming year. At the same time, we are also told there will be a free vote in the House of Commons," Hubbard said. "How these two things will come together I'm not too sure, and I don't think many Canadian experts are too sure either."
Roy Beyer, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, welcomed the growing opposition to the same-sex marriage movement. Beyer said it may have produced a "pragmatic" shift among Liberal MPs, but he also said the "undemocratic" notion of the government turning over its lawmaking duties to the court made many of them uncomfortable.
Beyer said one of the Ontario justices who voted to overturn the traditional definition of marriage "had never practiced a day of law prior to being appointed to the court.
"So there's a trend," Beyer alleged, "of radical activists being appointed to the court and then the inner circle of the liberal government, with the prime minister, they just simply used the excuse that the courts made this ruling as pushing their agenda.
"Process-wise, MPs are very upset, understandably," Beyer continued. "But I also know that they've never heard from so many of their own constituency of people who are really upset with what's happening here in the redefinition of marriage."
Press reports confirmed instances of Liberal MPs being approached by constituents angered by the proposal to legalize same-sex marriages.
"I even hate to go to the grocery store. People just grab you by the arm and say, what is happening in Ottawa? They cannot understand why this is an issue at this time," Rose-Marie Ur, MP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, told reporters.
Catholic activists have also become more vocal in their opposition to same-sex marriages, particularly in light of the recent message from the Vatican calling on all politicians to actively oppose any such measures. The CCCB sent a letter to Chretien on June 19 decrying the court decisions in Ontario and British Columbia and criticizing the government for refusing to appeal the rulings. Other press reports quoted Fred Henry, a Calgary bishop, as saying Chretien was "putting at risk his eternal salvation."
"The Catholic Church is probably stronger than any Christian church in Canada," Beyer said. "It's been very, very gratifying seeing them take that position."
However, Beyer said the Catholic Church in Canada "has been so asleep" on the issue of homosexual marriage compared to Church officials in the United States.
"You guys have got lots of activism among the religious community, and here in Canada, it's just been non-existent," Beyer told CNSNews.com. "But this issue is the first time where I've seen major denominational leaders get really upset and really engaged politically ,and so maybe, that's part of the good news in all of this...that it's a wake-up time for the Church community."
Some lawmakers disagree.
"The Church believes that it is the sole determiner of marriage, but there are civil marriages and religious marriages," said Kyle Rae, Toronto Center-Rosedale Councillor (Ward 27), who married his partner Mark Reid in June. "The state has jurisdiction over marriage. Marriage existed before Christianity," Rae told reporters recently.
Rae added that even if the new legislation passes, religious organizations would not be forced to compromise their beliefs and marry same-sex couples. "We will not compel churches [which] do not wish us to (marry) to (perform ceremonies)," he said.
Still, he asserted, while the Church doesn't want homosexuals using the term marriage, "have they told Hindus, Protestants and Jews that they can't use the word marriage?"
"The term marriage belongs to all of us," Rae said. "The Church did not define it. It existed before Christianity."
"I believe whomever was considering supporting this will not be swayed (against it). The Catholic Church cannot claim moral ground here - not when it hides pedophiles and denies equality to women. They have no higher ground here," Rae reportedly said.
Beyer conceded that marriage predated "confederation, our constitution," and the Church, but asserted: "It was the first institution ordained by God, and for the government to come in and redefine it is actually interfering with religious freedom."
Beyer added that if the rest of the churches "stand with the Catholics," there was a "good chance of defeating the legislation."
However, a recent poll found 53 percent of Canadians supported same-sex marriage, with 43 percent opposed and 3 percent undecided.
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