Same-sex marriage in Canada
Punishment of, and attempts to
influence Catholic politicians
In this essay:
"SSM" means "same-sex marriage."
"MP" means "Member of Parliament."
"CDF" means the Vatican's "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
In mid-summer, 2005, articles on same-sex marriage in Canada appeared
continually in the media. By 2005-JUL-09:
||Almost 90% of Canadians lived in a province or territory in which courts had forced governments to
allow same-sex couples to marry.
A court case was underway in the Northwest Territories to
legalize SSM in the territory.
The 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
||If 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.
||Most 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.
||The 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.
The duties of a Member of Parliament:
MPs are often pulled in opposing directions concerning their decision whether
to support or oppose controversial legislation:
||Some 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.
||Others 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.
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
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.
||Political 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.
The 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.
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:
In 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
In 2003, the CDF issued a document titled:
proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons."
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'."
More information on the church's position on
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."
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.
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.
2005-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 Rights...is 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.
2005-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
2005-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
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
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
||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.
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.
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
The pope had made similar comments to bishops from the maritime provinces and
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia: Revised and updated edition," Nelson, (1987), Page 272.
Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com
online book store
"Notification Regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS," Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith. Online at: http://www.dignityusa.org/
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 Amazon.com online book
"Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 8: AAS 68 (1976).
"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:
"Doctrinal Note on some
questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life,"
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002-NOV-24, at:
Alexander Panetta, "Priest in PM's riding praying against him," Canoe network, 2005-JUN-20, at:
"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:
"Church punishes NDP MP over stand on gay marriage," Toronto Star,
2005-JUL-09, Page B8.
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:
"Public Discomfort With Canadian Catholic Bishops' Approach to Catholic
Politicians Growing," LifeSiteNews, 2005-JUL-25, at:
"Pope asks bishops to lobby our MPs." Toronto Star, 2006-SEP-09
Copyright © 2005 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2005-JUL-09
Latest update: 2012-MAR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson