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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage in Canada

Punishment of, and attempts to
influence Catholic politicians

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Sponsored link.

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In this essay:

bullet"SSM" means "same-sex marriage."
bullet"MP" means "Member of Parliament."
bullet"CDF" means the Vatican's "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

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In mid-summer, 2005, articles on same-sex marriage in Canada appeared continually in the media. By 2005-JUL-09:

bulletAlmost 90% of Canadians lived in a province or territory in which courts had forced governments to allow same-sex couples to marry.

bulletA court case was underway in the Northwest Territories to legalize SSM in the territory.

bulletThe province of Prince Edward Island had decided on its own to marry same-sex couples.

The Liberal party introduced bill C-38 into the federal House of Commons in 2005-FEB:

bulletIf passed, it would probably have the effect of making SSM available in the one province and one territory where it is not currently available. It would only affect about 10% of the population of Canada.

bulletMost Liberals, most members of the Bloc Québécois, all but one NDP (New Democratic Party) MP, and a few Conservative Party MPs voted for the bill.

bulletThe bill was passed by the Senate and signed into law on 2005-JUL-20.

This essay describes a conflict between some Roman Catholic MPs and the Church to which they belong. The conflict became public in the case the Prime Minister, who is a Liberal, and two MPs who belong to the NDP.

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The duties of a Member of Parliament:

MPs are often pulled in opposing directions concerning their decision whether to support or oppose controversial legislation:

bulletSome of the public elect their MP on the basis that they respect the candidate, and prefer, in general terms, the policies of the candidate's party. They expect the MP to go to Ottawa, study the bills presented, exercise her or his best judgment, and vote accordingly.

bulletOthers of the public elect their MP to be their personal representative in Ottawa. The MP is expected to vote exactly as the majority of the electorate wish. So a MP would be expected to determine the majority opinion of his constituents before voting accordingly.

bullet The MP swears to an oath of office which requires them to support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution. Thirty judges in the most senior courts in eight out of ten provinces and one out of three territories have unanimously ruled that the Charter requires provinces and territories to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and register their subsequent marriages. Since the federal government decided to not appeal these nine lawsuits, then SSM became, in effect, the law of the land. If MPs are to take their oath of office seriously, they are compelled to vote in favor of C-38. Indeed, with the exception of those in the Conservative Party, most did.

bulletPolitical parties sometimes require their MPs to vote in a specified way. In the case of C-38, all Liberal cabinet ministers were expected to vote for the bill; Liberal backbenchers could vote as their conscience dictated; NDP members were required to vote for the bill.

bulletThe Roman Catholic Church requires its members to support the church's position in opposition to many controversial matters, such as abortion access, choice in physician assisted suicide, and same-sex marriage.

In the case of a Liberal or NDP Member of Parliament, the first three considerations would make an affirmative vote on C-38 most likely, because the majority of Canadian adults support SSM, the MPs themselves probably support SSM, their party supports SSM, and the Constitution requires it. Cabinet and party solidarity required the Prime Minister and NDP MPs to vote for the bill. But, for those MPs who are also Roman Catholics, their church expects them to support the Church's position and vote against such bills.

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Beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church concerning homosexuality:

According to the Catholic Encyclical, the Church regards homosexual behavior to be: "...not a normal condition, the acts being against nature are objectively wrong." 1 By taking this position, the Catholic Church is in agreement with many other conservative faith groups and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). The latter is a very small association which is mostly composed of mental health professionals who are also religious conservatives. But the church's stand is opposed by all of the large American associations of mental health and social worker professionals.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has issued a number of statements about the nature of homosexuality:

bulletIn 1999, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the CDF and now Pope Benedict XVI, released a "Notification Regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS" 2,3 In 1977, Gramick and Nugent had organized New Ways Ministry in order to promote "justice and reconciliation between lesbian and gay Catholics and the wider Catholic community." The CDF concluded that Gramick and Nugent continued to disregard "the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination." 4 The CDF ruled that the two are "permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes."

bulletIn 2003, the CDF issued a document titled: "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons." 5 It states that marriage was established by God. "No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives." This would seem to imply that same-sex couples cannot develop an enriching relationship, or morally build a lesbian-led family using artificial insemination, or a male gay couple adopting children. It also could be interpreted as throwing doubt on the validity of an opposite-sex marriage in which one or both spouses are infertile. The document continues: Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts 'close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved'....Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts 'as a serious depravity'....homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered....The homosexual inclination is ...'objectively disordered' and homosexual practices are 'sins gravely contrary to chastity'."

bulletMore information on the church's position on homosexuality.

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The Church's view concerning the obligations of Catholic legislators:

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a document in late 2002 which stated that Roman Catholic citizens, including legislators, are only free to "choose among the various political opinions that are compatible" with the church's faith and natural moral law. They are not free to develop an opinion which is based on secular beliefs or on another religion's teachings, if they conflict with Catholic principles. They are not allowed to follow their oath of office which generally requires them to follow the country's Constitution if it conflists with Church teachings. Referring to Roman Catholic legislators, the document states: "...a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals" as taught by the Catholic church.

Politicians  cannot behave as Catholics part of the time, and as secularists for the rest of the time. "There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual life', with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular' life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture." 6

Thus, the wishes of the legislators, the wishes of his constituency, and the requirement of the constitution together are outweighed by the church's teaching. On bills that have a serious moral component, like C-38, MPs must vote the way that the church tells them.

More details.

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Conflicts surface in the Canadian media between the Church and MPs:

The Roman Catholic Church has not taken a consistent stand towards Canadian Catholic legislators who voted in favor of C-38. It has ignored most of the MPs', while two priests and a bishop have taken action against the Prime Minister and two NDP MPs.

bullet2005-JUN-19: Priest verbally attacks Prime Minister Martin: Father Francis Geremia, a Roman Catholic priest in Paul Martin's riding, delivered a sermon opposing same-sex marriage during a wedding mass. He implied that Martin is a Satanist, by saying: "He has to be very careful because he might even lose his riding....I pray that he will lose his riding. Because you cannot have two faces: either you serve God or you serve the devil." In an interview on CKNW radio in Vancouver BC, Martin explained his position: "I'm actually a very strong Roman Catholic. But I'm also a legislator, and I believe that clearly what I've got to do is take the widest perspective possible. And that perspective leads me to believe that the Charter of a fundamental pillar of our democracy....I don't believe that a prime minister can cherry-pick among those rights and say, 'Oh, well I'll support this right but I won't support that right.' You can't do that. What you've got to do is say, 'rights are rights.' " 7 Of course, that is not in accordance with the CDF statement in 2002 and the historical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

bullet2005-JUL-03: NDP MP denied communion by Roman Catholic Church: Charles Angus, a New Democratic Party MP for Timmins-James Bay in northern Ontario voted for the bill. He was denied communion by Father John Lemire, pastor of St. Patrick's parish in Cobalt, ON. Angus told an Ottawa radio station: "I feel that we are starting to move into some very uncomfortable waters when the priest is telling me how to vote in the House of Commons....I felt no matter what else was at stake I can't allow the Eucharist to be a political pressure point." Angus can attend services but cannot receive communion unless he first repents of his decision to vote for C-38. Father Lemire said: "it is a consistent teaching of the Catholic Church as voiced by the current Pope and his predecessor." The local bishop, Paul Marchand  distributed a letter to all parishes in his diocese on the weekend of JUL-02. It said in part: "I was deeply disappointed to witness our two area Members of Parliament, Mr. Charlie Angus ...and Mr. Anthony Rota (Nipissing - Timiskaming), vote in favour of changing the definition of marriage and support same-sex marriage.  Their position is clearly contrary to the teachings of our Catholic Faith and is inconsistent with the vast majority of the men and women who elected them to the House of Commons."

LifeSiteNews commented: "For many faithful Catholics who have for years been battling the Liberal government on the abortion and same-sex marriage issues the greater scandal is that hardly any Canadian bishops are encouraging or at least allowing their pastors to do what Fr. Lemire has done. The absence of such straightforward needed action has resulted in a string of Catholic Prime Ministers and most Catholic politicians believing their support for legislation opposed to Church moral teaching is not a serious problem." 8

bullet2005-JUL-06: Second NDP MP denied participation in Roman Catholic Church: Joe Comartin, a New Democratic Party MP for Windsor-Tecumseh in southwestern Ontario, has played an active role as a volunteer in his parish. He has: "... been an altar server, administered the eucharist [sic], and taken part in fundraising projects for the church." He has also joined with his wife and taught marriage preparation courses. However, on JUL-06, Bishop Ronald Fabbro of the Diocese of London admonished Comartin in a letter that he sent to the priests in the diocese. The letter said: "a person who does not accept Catholic teaching on fundamental matters is disqualified from acting on behalf of the church in a public capacity." Comartin will not be allowed to volunteer effort for the parish until he has "a change of mind" about using the term "marriage" to refer to same-sex unions.  Comartin had said in Parliament that he hoped that the Catholic Church would eventually recognize same-sex marriages. He explained that the issue is about love and about treating all couples equally.

About 30 parishioners of the church that Comartin attends walked out of Sunday Mass on JUL-10 when Bishop Fabbro's document was read from the pulpit.

Apparently, Comartin was not sent a copy of the letter. After hearing of its contents, Comartin wrote in a new release: "The actions of Bishop Fabbro have deeply hurt and saddened myself and my family....My recent comments expressed my sincere hope that someday the leadership of the Catholic Church would embrace a fuller sense of inclusion."

On a positive note, according to the Toronto Star: "A spokesman for the diocese said Comartin will still be able to attend mass and receive communion." 9,10

bullet 2005-JUL: Third NDP MP denied participation in Roman Catholic Church: NDP member Tony Martin had expressed publicly his support for SSM in public prior to the vote. He was suspended as a reader at Masses.

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Responses to the church's actions:

Among the public, these attacks could influence public attitudes towards Roman Catholic MPs; some may see the MPs as being subject to religious pressure. They might wonder whether they are voting for a candidate who is free to promote and vote for her or his own ideas, those of their party, and those supported by their constituents, or whether they are voting for an MP who will vote the way that the Roman Catholic Church instructs.

Many newspaper editorials criticized the Church for applying pressure to individual MPs. In a remarkable move, The Tablet, a liberal English Catholic paper, criticized the church's actions towards Angus, portraying him more as a martyr than a MP who deviated from church teaching.

In mid-2005-JUL, the Windsor Star newspaper in Ontario surveyed 51 MPs known to be Catholic. Of the 13 who responded, 11 said that they had not been reprimanded in any way. Two said that actions had been taken against them; they were two of the NDP members described above. But, Paul Martin, the Prime Minister who initiated the legislation and required the usual voting solidarity by his cabinet ministers, has not been punished by the Church. Ted Byfield, a conservative commentator who is an Orthodox Christian wondered if the Church had:

"special exception for prime ministers....If poor Charlie Angus is out, why is Paul Martin still in? Does the church provide special dispensation for prime ministers?....Unlikely as this may seem, perhaps it does. A similar situation arose five years ago at the death of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, another Catholic whose devotion to the faith was frequently noted by an admiring media. Catholic Church rules specify that anyone who plays a role in an abortion commits a dire sin - and Trudeau, it can be argued, played a pivotal role in countless abortions. He was responsible for the legislation that eventually left Canada with no legal restrictions whatsoever on abortion. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church buried Pierre Trudeau with full honors."

David Warren, who recently converted to Catholicism wrote in an Ottawa Citizen column:

"It feels odd, to be defending Catholic authority, so soon after my arrival.  Yet, if I don't speak, who will? It can be no secret that the majority of Canadian Catholic bishops are cowards. With the important exception of the Bishop of Calgary (Fred Henry), they run away from almost any opportunity to defend the faith they were entrusted to defend. They will act, grudgingly, when they get instructions directly from the Vatican, but then they let everyone feel their pain. Some appear to be themselves opposed to most Church teaching. It is thus left to the laity to do for the Catholic Church that for which its 'hands on' leadership have not the stomach." 11

Other commentators have wondered why the Catholic Church is apparently only taking discipline action against NDP members. There were lots of Liberal, Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs who voted for the bill and yet seem to have been ignored by the Church.

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Pope Benedict XVI criticizes Canada's level of tolerance:

Pope Benedict XVI met with Catholic bishops from Ontario on 2006-SEP-09. He commended Canada for its "well-earned reputation for a generous and practical commitment to justice and peace." He is impressed with the separate Catholic school system in the province. But he felt that Canada's commitment to justice has led to a "false dichotomy." Human rights have been extended too far, to allow loving, committed same sex couples to marry and receive protections for themselves and their children. He said that:

 "In the name of tolerance, your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse and, in the name of 'freedom of choice' it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children.... Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle. [In] your discussions with politicians and civil leaders, I encourage you to demonstrate that our Christian faith, far from being an impediment to dialogue, is a bridge. ... Democracy succeeds only to the extent that it is based on truth and a correct understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle."

The pope had made similar comments to bishops from the maritime provinces and Quebec. 12

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia: Revised and updated edition," Nelson, (1987), Page 272.  Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. "Notification Regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Online at:
  3. Robert Nugent & Jeannine Gramick, "Building Bridges: Gay & Lesbian reality and the Catholic Church," Twenty-Third Publications, (3rd printing, 1995). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  4. "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 8: AAS 68 (1976).
  5. "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2003-JUN-3. Released 2003-JUL-31. See:
  6. "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002-NOV-24, at:
  7. Alexander Panetta, "Priest in PM's riding praying against him," Canoe network, 2005-JUN-20, at:
  8. "Ontario Catholic MP Denied Communion for Voting in Favour of Homosexual 'Marriage'. Outraged Canadian Media Reveal Ignorance of Basic Catholic Teaching," LifeSiteNews, 2005-JUL-06, at:
  9. "Church punishes NDP MP over stand on gay marriage," Toronto Star, 2005-JUL-09, Page B8.
  10. Christopher Guly, "Gay Catholics' Kids Might Not Be Baptized in Canada. Archbishop of Quebec testifies as the church continues to fight a same-sex marriage bill," Los Angeles Times, 2005-JUL-16, at:
  11. "Public Discomfort With Canadian Catholic Bishops' Approach to Catholic Politicians Growing," LifeSiteNews, 2005-JUL-25, at:
  12. "Pope asks bishops to lobby our MPs." Toronto Star, 2006-SEP-09

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 Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Canada > here

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or Home > Christianity > Denominations > Catholicism > Sex > here

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Copyright © 2005 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2005-JUL-09
Latest update: 2012-MAR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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