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Source: Globe and Mail newspaper, Toronto ON, 1997-JUL-11

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Proposed Legislation

The NDP (Socialist) government of the Canadian province of British Columbia proposed a new spousal benefits law that would expand the definition of "spouse" to include same-sex couples. Bills 31 and 32 would recognize "the marriage-like relationship between persons of the same gender" in the Family Relations Act and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act. They would receive the same legal status with regards to child custody, maintenance and access as would "common-law" heterosexual couples. This would be the first jurisdiction in North America to take this step. Responses from various faith groups was as one might predict. The conservative groups expressed concern at the legislation and feared its negative effect on families in the province. At least one Liberal group welcomed the legislation for its long overdue granting of equal rights to gay and lesbian families, and looked forward to the law having a positive effect on all families.

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Response from Conservative Denominations/Religions

Leaders of the Mennonite, Orthodox Judaism, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Sikh faiths issued a joint statement condemning the proposed legislation. Referring to the promise of children, they stated that the union of a man and woman "is truly the foundation of the hope, freedom and prosperity we cherish." They are hoping that the NDP government will allow a free vote in which legislators could vote according to their conscience. Legislators are normally expected to vote according to their party's instructions. Spokesman Michael Markwick said: "Spiritual leaders, human rights advocates, and eminent theologians of the Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Sikh communities are calling on the government to dialogue with them. They share an expertise in humanity, and their voices must be heard on one of the most crucial and intimate issues before us today, the family."

The religious leaders apparently overlooked the presence of committed lesbian couples who bring children into the world, and the heterosexual couples who are either infertile or have decided to remain childless.

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Response from Liberal Denominations/Religions

Canada's second largest Protestant denomination, at 10% of the population, is the Anglican Church of Canada. The bishops in British Columbia sent a letter of support of the legislation to Hon. Glen Clark, the Premier of BC. Excerpts from the letter include:
It is a matter of fundamental equality and human rights that homosexual people should have the same obligations and protection under the civil law as other citizens of British Columbia.

Religious organisations have a particular responsibility to safeguard the freedom, dignity and responsibility of every person, and to work for an end to discrimination.

Equality must be supported in substance, not just by rhetoric.

...by ensuring the same benefits and the same responsibilities for homosexual families as for heterosexual families, it [the legislation] will strengthen all families in their diversity and encourage long-term, stable relationships to the benefit of children, spouses and society as a whole."

We have been unable to find any statement by Canada's largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Canada. They serve about 17% of the population, and have traditionally been outspoken on matters of civil rights and sexual morality.

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The Bill Passes

The bill was passed with an overwhelming majority.

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