PRESENTATION BY THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA TO A FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE ON
On 2003-FEB-13, The United Church of Canada gave a submission to the
House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
concerning same-sex marriage. They recommended that the federal government adopt
a legislative framework that provides the same civil recognition for same-sex
and opposite sex couples.
In its submission to the committee, the United Church outlined its
longstanding commitment to equality rights for gays and lesbians within the
church and Canadian society.
In 1984, The United Church of Canada affirmed our acceptance of all
human beings as persons made in the image of God, regardless of their sexual
In 1988, the church affirmed that all persons who profess faith in Jesus
Christ, regardless of their sexual orientation, are eligible to be
considered for ordered ministry.
In 1992, the General Council directed that liturgical and pastoral
resources for same-sex covenants be made available to congregations.
In 1997, the 37th General Council passed a resolution requesting that
United Church regional Conferences urge all teachers' unions and
associations to provide in-service education on gay, lesbian, and bisexual
issues in order to promote tolerance. To this end the United Church has
recently published "Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth Issues in Canada:
Action Resources for United Church Congregations."
In 1999, the United Church appeared before the Standing Committee on
Justice and Human Rights in support of Bill C-23, the Modernization
of Benefits and Obligations, as a tangible expression of the United
Churchís commitment to the equality of heterosexual and same-sex
In 2000, the 37th General Council of the United Church affirmed that
human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift
from God and part of the marvelous diversity of creation. Each year, the
United Church, which is Canadaís largest Protestant denomination, blesses
over 15,000 marriages in Canada.
In 2000, the General Council resolved to work toward civil recognition
of same-sex partnerships.
Historically, The United Church of Canada has also made various statements
regarding marriage. Prior to 1980, marriage was named as a union between a woman
and a man. Subsequently, it was reported at the 30th General Council in 1984
that the life and ministry of Jesus demonstrated what it means to be a full
human being made in the image of God. The essential mark is the total
self-giving love to the other. There is no genuine humanity apart from
relationship and community, but there is more than one way to symbolize and
express this reality that is pleasing to God and in keeping with Godís intention
In 1988, the General Council affirmed that all "life-long relationships"
(note the omission of the term "marriage") need to be faithful, responsible,
just, loving, health giving, healing, and sustaining of community and self. The
implication is that these standards apply to both heterosexual and homosexual
couples as the United Church has come to recognize that gay and lesbian members
want to make the same life-long commitments that heterosexual members make, and
to make their solemn vows with communities of faith who will support them in
their commitments. Consequently, recent United Church resources for marriage
preparation, Passion and Freedom (coming in summer 2003), and services,
Celebrate Godís Presence (2000), make no distinctions between
heterosexuals and homosexuals.
As a Protestant denomination, the United Church is part of the Christian
tradition that does not regard marriage a sacrament. Procreation is not a
defining aspect of marriage in the United Church. Nor does the church condemn
people who decide divorce is the only option for a marriage that is fraught by
unhappiness. Divorced people receive the communion of the church and may remarry
Nevertheless, the United Church places an extremely high value on the
seriousness of vows taken before God and in the presence of witnesses. The
church urges congregations to help couples to prepare for a life together and
offers counseling and enrichment courses.
The most recent policy decision by the General Council affirming the
relationships of same-sex couples was in 2000. At this General Council meeting,
the church adopted the policy to affirm and work toward the civil recognition of
same-sex partnerships. As a result, some United Church congregations are
beginning to record the services of same-sex couples in their marriage registers
and forwarding these registrations to provincial governments for licensing.
In its submission, the United Church argues that many of the alleged
benchmarks for confining marriage to opposite-sex couples do not bar same-sex
Procreation can no longer be cited as a defining dynamic of marriage in
Western society. Ironically, in Canada, we do have heterosexuals who marry with
no intention, and in some cases, no ability of having children, and yet we have
same-sex couples with children who cannot get married.
Others may argue that including same-sex couples undermines societyís
understanding of family. It is the experience of the United Church that
non-traditional family forms may equally advance these family values.
Still others argue that including same-sex couples within a definition of
marriage impinges on their religious freedom and understanding of marriage as an
opposite-sex institution only, potentially forcing some clergy to compromise
their faith and marry a same-sex couple. This is not true. The separation of
Church and State in Canada means clergy are not required to marry couples when
it would be contrary to the faith communityís religious beliefs. One example is
the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to marry someone who is divorced.
For further information, please contact:
Human Rights & Reconciliation Initiatives
Justice, Global & Ecumenical Relations Unit
The United Church of Canada
3250 Bloor St. West, Suite 300
Toronto, Ontario M8X 2Y4
It is our understanding that there is no copyright on this
document, as it was presented as a submission before a federal government
Originally posted: 2005-SEP-14
Latest update: 2005-SEP-14
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