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Gay marriage in Canada

The contents of Bishop Henry's second letter

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About the pastoral letters:

In 2005-JAN,  Bishop Frederick B. Henry (1943 -) wrote a pastoral letter to fellow Roman Catholics in the Diocese of Calgary, Alberta concerning gay marriage (a.k.a. same-sex marriage [SSM]). 1  During 2005-MAY, he issued a second pastoral letter on the same topic. The latter is described below.

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Clarification of the phrase "State must use its coercive power."

Bishop Henry submitted a letter to the Calgary Sun and on 2005-MAY-01, about three and a half months after his January pastoral letter. He repeated his "coercive power" statement. He enlarged the list of threats to the family to include "divorce, fornication and rape, etc." He further wrote:

"The coercive power of the state extends to traffic laws, tax policy, education curriculum, communication regulations, and a whole host of other areas including marriage. For example, in the case of marriage, federal legislation prohibits people from marrying if they are related linearly or as brother and sister, whether by whole blood, half blood or by adoption. Specifically: a woman may not marry her grandfather, father, grandson, son or brother. A man may not marry his grandmother, mother, granddaughter, daughter of sister. The time has come for the government of Canada to use its coercive powers to legislate that a couple being married must be one man and one woman. This is not a fascist or Hitler-like position, nor even an anti-homosexual stance, but it reflects Christian teaching on the primordial status of marriage and family life." 2,3

He seems to make two points here:

bullet His term "coercive powers" refers to simple legislation by the federal government. Some people feel that this is a strange use of the term. The Ontario Government uses its legislative authority to specify a minimum age to obtain a driver's license, for example. But this is not normally referred to by the public as "coercive powers" or "coercive force."
bullet He seems to imply that the federal marriage act must match Roman Catholic teaching, even though that would violate the beliefs of the United Church of Canada, The Unitarian Universalist Association, other liberal Christian groups, some other religions, some secularist organizations, etc who all support SSM as a matter of fundamental justice.

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Bishop Henry's recommendation concerning SSM in Alberta:

Bishop Henry concludes his letter with a discussion of same-sex marriage in the province of Alberta. He wrote:

"We don't have to wait for the federal government to act. We should renew the notwithstanding provision of the Alberta Defence of Marriage Act and add an amendment to the existing Marriage Act stating that in order for a marriage to be solemnized in Alberta and a marriage licence issued, the couple needs to be a man and a woman. The issuing of marriage licences is a provincial right and this is where our power resides."

The "notwithstanding" clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution -- allows a government to pass legislation that violates certain parts of the Charter. Laws that are clearly unconstitutional can be implemented for a five year period at a time. But a provincial government can only do this within the limits of its jurisdiction. Bishop Henry may not have been aware that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government has sole responsibility to determine who is eligible to marry. Thus, only the federal government could invoke the notwithstanding clause to ban same-sex marriages. Provincial responsibility extends only to the mechanics of issuing licenses to couples, licensing persons who are allowed to perform marriages, and recording marriages. Only the federal government is capable of using the notwithstanding clause to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Premier Klein of Alberta did not take Bishop Henry's advice. His government transmitted a fax to all of the marriage license issuing offices within hours of SSM being legalized in Canada. It instructed the office personnel to start issuing licenses to same-sex couples. 4

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References used:

  1. F.B. Henry, "On Same-Sex Marriage," 2005-JAN, at:
  2. Fred Henry, "We should lead fight for marriage," Calgary Sun, 2005-MAY-01, at:
  3. "Pastoral Letter of Calgary Bishop Fred Henry Released May 1. Submitted to by Bishop Henry," LifeSiteNews, 2005-MAY-02, at:
  4. "Edmonton men first gay couple in Alberta to get marriage license," CBC News, 2005-JUL-21, at:

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Site navigation:
"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada > Henry > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality> SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada > Henry > here

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Copyright 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JUL-15
Latest update: 2005-NOV-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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