Response to Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex ‘marriage’ referencePeter Stock
Pro-family leaders received a Christmas surprise from the Supreme Court again this past year in the form of answers to the federal government’s reference questions on marriage. In recent years, the courts have taken to releasing controversial decisions before major Christian holidays in a cynical attempt to stifle public debate and dissent, and 2004 was no exception.
As expected, the court unanimously agreed that Parliament can change the definition of marriage. While the ruling has no basis in law, according to many conservative legal analysts, it nevertheless fits the pattern established by the high court when it rewrote the Charter of Rights in 1995’s Egan case to include the phrase “sexual orientation.” Yet, despite the outrageous activism of the court, it did not go nearly as far as the federal Liberal government had hoped it would. In fact, two of the answers given by the court amounted to a virtual slap in the face to Paul Martin and company.
First, the court refused to say that marriage defined exclusively as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional and does not, therefore, have to be redefined. This makes it extremely difficult for homosexual “marriage” boosters to argue that redefinition is a matter of protecting minority rights. The second of the court’s snubs was to reject the religious freedom provisions proposed by the Liberals as unconstitutional. The court indicated that the federal government has no power to protect pastors, priests and other individuals performing marriage ceremonies from being compelled to perform homosexual “weddings.” Only the provinces can offer such protections.
In other words, the Supreme Court unanimously said there is no human rights requirement to create homosexual “marriage” in law, but there is a clear and present danger to religious freedoms posed by creating such a law. In fact, the threat to religious freedoms is already apparent in several Canadian provinces where marriage commissioners have been forced from their jobs for refusing to perform such sham marriages.
Only days before the ruling was released, Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler was boasting that his government was going to swiftly bring in legislation to redefine marriage. While Cotler and Martin have refused to back away from their commitment, the court’s rebuke has certainly opened wide divisions within the Liberal caucus and even the cabinet.
Liberal MPs, who had previously voted in Parliament to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, had been under heavy pressure from the prime minister to accept that there were fundamental “Charter rights” at stake and that the homosexual minority must be granted marriage as a matter of equality. However, the court’s refusal to affirm this interpretation has given many such MPs pause for thought.
Their quandary was compounded a couple of days after the ruling by the comments of Martin’s deputy house leader, Mauril Belanger, during a debate with pro-marriage Conservative MP Rob Moore on the CPAC television channel. Belanger said that public officials who refuse to perform homosexual marriages for reasons of conscience or religion should be disciplined and fired. The comments set off a storm of controversy in the House of Commons, with Conservative MPs accusing the government of anti-religious bigotry and harbouring a “hidden agenda.”
The accusations of anti-religious bias within the Liberal leadership’s inner circle appears to have some basis in truth. While former prime minister Jean Chretien’s anti-religious agenda has been front-page news for years, stories of continuing disparagement of pro-marriage MPs by current homosexual cabinet ministers are emerging. These ministers refer to such MPs as “the God Squad.”
Even so, a handful of more conservative cabinet ministers has publicly speculated about resigning their posts, rather than voting in favour of the Liberal bill. Joe Comuzzi of northern Ontario appears willing to quit cabinet rather than redefine marriage. And Ministers Albina Guarnieri and Joe Volpe, who have been strong proponents of traditional marriage in the past, are known to be deeply conflicted over the issue.
Dozens of Grit backbenchers have also made it known they will not go along with the anti-marriage plan willingly. Indeed, many of those counting the MPs “for” and “against” have concluded the vote will be won or lost by only a handful of votes.
Meanwhile, the Conservative opposition in Parliament knows it has been handed a gift and has made no secret of the fact that it will fight any Liberal attempt to pass legislation redefining marriage. It is also possible that the matter could become a primary election issue.
Yet, although the majority of the Conservative caucus will vote in defence of marriage, a small cabal of so-called “Red Tories” has begun to stir dissent. Led by would-be leadership candidates Belinda Stronach of Ontario and Jim Prentice of Calgary, the “reds” have been quietly organizing, particularly in Quebec and the greater Toronto area, to gain delegates to the March convention of the Conservative party. Party insiders allege that the “red” delegates intend to push homosexual marriage and will attempt to embarrass leader Stephen Harper by voting against his leadership.
Of course, the question of how marriage will be defined in Canadian law will not be settled with any real certainty until after the next election, regardless of whether the proposed Liberal bill passes in the meantime. Should the Liberals form a majority, marriage will be redefined for the foreseeable future, although a Conservative majority may lead instead to continued debate, a possible national referendum and the prospect of a constitutional amendment to cement the one man, one woman definition in place.
Ultimately, the court’s reference answers have given the pro-family movement the fighting chance it needs to halt and even reverse the rapid decline in legal protection and support for the institutions of marriage and family. The many divisions in the House of Commons is an opportunity for the movement to mobilize large numbers of voters in the ridings of waffling MPs and push them to oppose the Liberal legislation. Indeed, there seems to be unprecedented co-operation among pro-family and religious organizations in strategizing to defeat this attack on marriage.
Defeating the Liberals’ bill could well bring down the precarious minority government and become the primary election issue. And, if the pro-family movement continues to advance itself by winning party nominations in the new year, we could well end up with the most socially conservative Parliament Canada has had in 40 years.