The Interim

In January, religious leaders began stepping up the pressure against the federal government’s assault on marriage, because of its proposal to redefine the institution to include homosexual couples.

In a letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin, released Jan. 19, Toronto Catholic Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic asked that the bill be scuttled and a new one proposed to protect the traditional definition of marriage. Moreover, knowing that provincial courts have forced the redefinition of marriage, the Cardinal asked that the bill include use of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to allow for it to take effect.

“I urge you, prime minister, to table a bill that legislatively enacts the traditional opposite-sex definition of marriage, coupled with a clause that provides for the legislation to take effect notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” wrote Ambrozic.

His request for legislation is couched in a demand for a time of reflection prior to any alteration of the definition of marriage. “My purpose in writing this open letter to you is to urge caution in taking this step towards the re-definition of marriage. We all would do well to pause reflectively before we alter social structures like marriage and the family that lie at the core of our society, and that represent the accumulated wisdom and experience of the ages.”

Ambrozic’s letter highlighted one of the dangerous consequences of the redefinition of marriage; namely, equating heterosexual sex with homosexual sex. “The law is a teacher. Does Canadian society as a whole, and do parents in particular, understand what the law will be teaching in this instance? It will be teaching that homosexual activity and heterosexual activity are morally equivalent.” He warned that, “Public schools will be required to provide sex education in that light.”

In his letter, the Cardinal acknowledged that the use of the notwithstanding clause may be controversial. However, he noted, “Its use in the context of same-sex ‘marriage’ would be most appropriate.” In conclusion, he urged that “all parliamentarians, cabinet ministers included” be permitted “to vote their consciences on any legislation that is put to a vote in Parliament on the issue of marriage.”

In addition to writing Prime Minister Paul Martin on the subject, Ambrozic directed all priests in the Archdiocese of Toronto to make his letter available to parishioners, and to include prayer petitions on protecting marriage “at all Sunday Masses from now until Easter 2005.” In a memo dated Jan. 17, the Cardinal encouraged priests to allow a couple to make a statement at the end of Mass about getting politically active on the issue.

Ambrozic stressed that Catholics “have a duty to make our voices heard in the public realm,” and to that end, asked the faithful to begin “writing, e-mailing or faxing your member of Parliament and sending a copy to Prime Minister Paul Martin.” He also urged everyone to pray for the parliamentarians who will consider the issue in the upcoming months.

Ambrozic’s letters came the same week as a pastoral letter from Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, which cut to the heart of the debate. Rather than shy away from the central issue of homosexuality (as have most other religious leaders in the country), Henry confronted it without fear.

He said, “Simply stated, a same-sex union is not marriage. The idea that homosexuals can create same-sex ‘marriage’ through their individual choice is false. All the packaging in the world doesn’t alter substance.”

Henry added, “Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good.”

“Contrary to what is normally alleged,” he wrote, “the primary goals in seeking legalization of same-sex ‘marriage’ are not the financial or health or inheritance or pension benefits associated with marriage, not stability and exclusivity, not even equality rights … The goal is to acquire a powerful psychological weapon to change society’s rejection of homosexual activity and lifestyle into gradual, even if reluctant, acceptance.”

Henry also castigated court justices and others who have used the Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as their authority to justify the imposition of radical social changes on the nation. Henry also urged the faithful to become political engaged.

For his outspokenness, Henry received hate mail from homosexuals and anti-Catholics, as well as the castigation of editorial writers. The Globe and Mail said his rhetoric, particularly his equating homosexuality with pornography, adultery and prostitution as threats to marriage, was “noxious” and sent “a terribly un-Christian message that feeds into the prejudices of bigots and hate-mongers and undermines legitimate debate on the issue of same-sex ‘marriage.'”

While the Washington Times newspaper reported that Henry was going to re-issue a toned-down letter, he told, “I would not take back one part of the letter itself. I think it’s true; I think it’s accurate … In the light of the reaction to it, and in hindsight, I would expand on it and clarify exactly what I meant.”

Other bishops have issued statements, joining the likes of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, as well as countless priests and pastors at the congregational level who have spoken against redefining marriage.

The religious leadership on the issue has even come from overseas. During Prime Minister Paul Martin’s visit to tsunami-ravaged south Asia, the highest-ranking spiritual leader of the Sikh religion, Joginder Singh Vedanti, expressed concern over Martin’s proposal to introduce a bill on the subject, saying that such a trend has “no place in Sikhism.”

Addressing six Canadian Sikh MPs, Vedanti encouraged them to “rise above petty politics and take a stand against same-sex ‘marriage.'” The Tribune, an Indian newspaper, reported that the directive, issued from the Akal Takht, the seat of supreme Sikh authority, is the first of its kind.

Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dossanjh, a Sikh, dismissed the directive, saying, “It will absolutely have no impact on me whatsoever. Absolutely nothing.” He added that Catholic prime ministers including Martin and Jean Chretien have ignored Catholic teaching on moral issues.

However, a Liberal strategist told The Interim this development could have some effect on the internal caucus debates on the issue, because some 80 per cent of Sikhs vote for the Liberal party. He added that the Liberal party will be none too pleased with the comments of the bishops, which have put the issue of same-sex “marriage” on the front pages of newspapers.

“The government was hoping to pass this legislation quickly and quietly,” he said. “Bishop Henry and others put that fantasy to an end.”

– With files from