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Initial reactions to the federal government's decision to legalize SSM

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Information about the government's decision to legalize SSM

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Initial reactions to the government decision to implement SSM:

On 2003-JUN-17, the federal government decided to create legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage (SSM) across Canada. This decision stirred up a hornets' nest of controversy. The following comments appeared in the media during  the initial week following that decision:

bullet The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced the proposed legislation, sight unseen.
bullet Gary Buseck, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston, MA said: "It's extraordinary that Canada appears to be recognizing human rights in such a powerful way. This is a country with a similar system and certainly similar values to ours, and they have decided to take this momentous step. It's tremendous." 1
bullet Revenue Minister Elinor Caplan said: "The court has spoken."
bullet The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a popular phone-in radio program called Cross Country Checkup every Saturday. The 2003-JUN-22 program asked the question: "What's your reaction to Ottawa's decision to recognize same-sex marriage?" The program is available online at:
bullet Environment Minister David Anderson expressed frustration at his lack of freedom to express his beliefs because of the necessity for cabinet solidarity. He said that he has "no personal opinion because I'm a cabinet minister...Freedom? Freedom? What is that when you're a cabinet minister?"
bullet Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said: "The Court unilaterally has altered an institution of vital social significance, and the government apparently has conceded the issue to the Court by not appealing...It is not the role of the Court, nor an appropriate use of the Charter, to redefine pre-existing social, cultural and religious institutions. Despite the existence of bills of rights in most western countries, not one has ruled that the recognition of marriage as being the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others is unconstitutional or in violation of any norm of human rights....By not appealing the federal government has pre-empted its own process of public consultation. As one of many who in good faith participated in the Justice Committee's cross country hearings, our collective efforts have been rendered moot and irrelevant. This does not contribute to a healthy democracy."
bullet Multicultural Minister Jean Augustine said: "I think we should just go for it [and] support equality rights."
bullet New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord said: "I've asked our department of justice to look at all the legal options that we have."
bullet Svend Robinson, a gay NDP (socialist) member of Parliament commented: "It's a great day for gay and lesbian people in Canada. I commend the prime minister. I think he has shown great leadership today." 1
bullet Alliance House leader John Reynolds said: "If the bill says marriage is for everybody, I would certainly vote against it and I think a majority of my colleagues would, too." The Alliance Party is Canada's extreme right wing political party.
bullet Progressive Conservative member Gerald Keddy said: "Every family has a brother or sister, a niece or nephew, a cousin, or a parent who is gay or lesbian. We can't live in a bubble and it's time society caught up to the courts." 2
bullet Alliance justice critic Vic Toews said: "This vote will be meaningless in every sense of the word. Same-sex marriages are constitutionally imbedded in Canada whether Parliament votes Yes or No to the proposed legislation. This is simply a cynical communications exercise by the Liberals to try to hide the fact that they've let unelected judges make the laws of this country." 2
bullet Evan Wolfson, executive director of the "Freedom to Marry" organization said that "Americans now have the chance to see [that] a society can treat gay people with respect. Families are helped, and no one is hurt." 3
bullet Darrel Reid, president of Focus Canada, a fundamentalist Christian social action and educational group headquartered in Colorado, said that the Prime Minister has capitulated to the "undemocratic demands" of un-elected judges. He wrote: "During the Justice Committee consultations --commissioned by the minister himself --thousands of Canadians participated in good faith, expecting their views to be debated in the House of Commons. Instead, their views have been ignored by judges in a court room...Canadians demand leadership from government on this crucial issue, which will have measurable effects on society in years to come." He feelt that invoking the Charter's notwithstanding clause might be needed "to ensure that both marriage and the democratic process are well-served." 4
bullet On 2003-JUN-20, The Massachusetts Family Institute issued a "MFE E-Alert" in response to the Federal Cabinet's decision. Same sex marriage is a critical item in that state, because their Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule in mid-2003 on Goodridge v. the Department of Public Health which might expand marriage in Massachusetts to include same-sex couples. In their news release, MFE stated, in part: "Marriage has always been something that was a dependable and unchangeable staple of human life.  MFI Public Policy Director Evelyn Reilly added, 'Same-sex marriage negates the biological reality that marriage unites an individual with XX chromosomes and one with XY chromosomes capable of producing the next generation.  If marriage can be anything other than the union of a man and a woman, it can mean anything and consequently, will mean nothing at all....The Canadian decision is not an example of government legislating for the common good.  This is an unfortunate and decisive moment in the weakening of society.  I can only hope these lawmakers will come to their senses before the damage is done." 5
bullet The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, Marcel Gervais, suggested in a letter to the Justice Minister that "Other ways of supporting and recognizing stable homosexual or non-sexual unions could be found. Certain European nations have recently enacted legislation on 'Civil Unions' or 'Cohabitation' but they are not called marriages. It is our firm belief that the marriage covenant can only take place between a man and a woman, not two persons of the same sex, and that this union establishes a partnership of their whole life and which, of its own very nature, is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and for procreation and the bringing up of children." 6
bullet A lawyer specializing in divorce, Gerry Sadvari, said that in large measure, the right to marry is "a moral victory" for same-sex couples. 7
bullet Unnamed Justice department lawyers believe that with same-sex marriage "nothing is taken away" from heterosexual married couples. In the same way, the decision years ago to allow interracial marriage did not affect the marriages of same-race couples. Similarly, allowing interfaith marriage did not impact same-faith couples. 7
bullet Liberal member of parliament John McKay isn't convinced that allowing same-sex couples to marry will not adversely affect opposite-sex married couples. He said: "I don't know whether there'll be a 'loss' column for heterosexual marriage, but it's disingenuous to argue there'll be no change whatsoever." 7
bullet Robert Knight director of the Fundamentalist Christian Culture and Family Institute said: "Americans will see this as a corrupting influence just north of the border and will see Canada as a country which has lost its moral moorings. Any country that tosses out 5,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition to chase the latest fad is not a very serious country." [Mr. Knight appears to be unaware of the diversity of marriage and family structures in ancient Israel]. 8
bullet Tom Minnery, spokesperson for the American Fundamentalist Christian organization, Focus on the Family, does not feel that the Canadian decision will impact American legislators. He said: "We see Canadian legislators ducking the tough ones. They are leaving this to the unelected judicial branch and we are very disheartened by the people's representatives in Canada." 8
bullet Ken Choe, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project said: "We would like to think that Canadian decision is an opportunity to talk to our fellow citizens about what this means for our society. But at the same time, we are realists and we know this could trigger a backlash because there is still a lot of fear and ignorance in this country." 8
bullet John McKellar is the founder and either the national director 9 or executive director 10 (sources differ) of Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism (HOPE). HOPE is a loosely knit Canadian group of unknown size. They do not have a membership roll, and apparently have on web site or office. McKellar has endorsed reparative therapy and appears to be undecided on whether homosexual acts can be moral. He feels that it is "selfish and rude" for gays and lesbians to seek the right to marry, and thus "redefine society's traditions and conventions simply for our self-indulgence." He applauds the decision by the Alberta government to oppose same-sex marriages. He believes that "less than 1% [of adult gays and lesbians] are interested in same-sex marriage or even domestic partnership legislation. In other words, federal and provincial laws are being changed and traditional values are being compromised just to appease a tiny, self-anointed clique." Paraphrasing a famous statement by former Justice Minister and Prime Minister Trudeau, McKellar said: "We don't want the state in our bedrooms. We don't want to be shackled by rules, legislation and paperwork." 11
bullet Stephen Lock, Alberta director for the homosexual lobby group Egale Canada, says that there are "a significant number [of homosexuals] who don't want to be engaged and be married because they see it as mimicking heterosexual standards." But he also told the Calgary Herald that "there are others who do want to get married. Who has the right to say to these individuals that they can't get married because [others] don't believe in it?" 11
bullet Derek Rogusky of Focus on the Family Canada, a Fundamentalist Christian group, said: ''The federal government has abdicated its leadership role. This matter has far-reaching consequences nationwide, and the nation's highest court should be permitted to consider the fundamental issues.'' 14

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Subsequent developments are described in another essay

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  1. Colin Nickerson, "Canada will amend federal law to allow same-sex marriages," The Boston Globe, 2003-JUN-18, at:
  2. "Same-sex marriage bill expected to pass easily," Toronto Star, 2003-JUN_18, at:
  3. "Chretien to support same-sex marriages. 'There is an evolution of society,' prime minister says," Associated Press, 2003-JUN-18, at:
  4. "Canadians' views on marriage 'ignored,' says Focus," Focus on the Family Canada, 2003-JUN-18, at:
  5. "Cold North Wind: Canada to Sanction Same-sex Marriage," Massachusetts Family Institute MFE E-Alert, 2003-JUN-20.
  6. "Christians stand firm on marriage definition," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family, Canada, 2003-JUN-20.
  7. Tonda MacCharles, "Divorcing gay couples have plenty to fight for. Property rights now enter the mix, lawyers say. 'Means more business' divorce specialists admit," The Toronto Star, 2003-JUN-23, Page A19.
  8. Tim Harper, "American activists encouraged by Ottawa's decision; Foes lash out at 'corrupting influence;' Say Canada's lost its 'moral moorings'," The Toronto Star, 2003-JUN-23, Page A19.
  9. "John the Baptist," The Interim, at:
  10. Mario Toneguzzi, "Gay lobbyist rips decision on same-sex marriage," CanWest News Service, The Kingston Whig-Standard, 2003-JUN-20, Page 12.
  11. "Few homosexuals want to marry, says gay group," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family Canada, 2003-JUN-23.
  12. "Gay couple fighting Alberta for marriage licence," The Kingston Whig Standard, 2003-JUN-21, Page 17.
  13. "Homosexual weddings cause controversy," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family Canada, 2003-JUN-30.
  14. "British Columbia court allows same-sex marriage," MSNBC News, 2003-JUL-8, at:
  15. Alexander Panetta, "Same-sex legislation expected,", 2003-JUL-14, at:
  16. "Same sex marriages bill goes to supreme Court. Government asks for Supreme Court opinion on draft bill," Canada Online, at:
  17. "Here come the brides: 'Gay Marriage' announcements," Family Research Council Washington Update, 2003-JUL-25.
  18. "Coalition to battle same-sex marriages. Family, religious groups seek right to appeal ruling,", 2003-JUL-8, at:
  19. Valarie Lawton, "Bishops take gay-marriage issue to court. 'Keep traditional definition' Catholics say. Will ask Supreme Court for right to press their case," The Toronto Star, 2003-JUL-30, Page A4.

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Copyright 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-JUL-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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