Legislative and court battles over everything from child pornography to euthanasia are so common now that it is difficult to keep track of the ever-changing frontline in what Pope John Paul II has dubbed “the culture war.” Nevertheless, pro-family groups in Canada believe they may have identified a political battle they can win and sustain: defending the definition of marriage in court.

In recent years, the homosexual rights movement has obtained for its supporters an ever-expanding panoply of special rights and privileges. Among these are adoption privileges, “spousal” pensions, and equivalent-to-married status for couples, in both federal and provincial legislation. The only status Parliament has been reluctant to grant to homosexuals is marriage itself.

Realizing that there is little political will to redefine such an important institution through legislation, extremist groups, such as Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, have launched court challenges to the definition of marriage in three provinces: Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. Pro-family groups have been quick to respond and have obtained intervenor status, allowing them to make legal arguments in court in defence of marriage as a heterosexual union. The coalition includes Focus on the Family and REAL Women of Canada.

While many of the battles that pro-family groups fight are in reaction to a further decline in the culture, the fight to defend marriage has a very positive message. As Focus on the Family Canada’s director of research Derek Rogusky explains, “Marriage has proven to be the best institution for bringing together men and women and for raising children. Our democratic freedoms are grounded in a society based on the foundation of marriage. Societies that are not based on marriage are inherently unstable.”

Rogusky told The Interim that the usual arguments made by homosexual activists will carry little weight in this fight. “This case is not about ‘discrimination.’ The people who have brought the case are looking for social acceptance of their lifestyle. The Charter was never intended to force people to accept what they consider to be offensive behaviour. But these people are not going to stop until homosexual behaviour is completely and totally accepted and dissent is outlawed,” he says.

Commenting on recent polls that seem to show some societal acceptance of the concept of “gay marriage,” Rogusky says, “The polls in recent years have consistently shown that those who strongly oppose homosexual ‘marriage’ outnumber those who strongly support it, two to one.” Those polls also demonstrate that a large majority of Canadians oppose homosexuals adopting children, an occurrence that redefining marriage will only intensify.

Toronto lawyer Gwen Landolt, a vice-president of REAL Women, has been providing strategic advice to the lawyers representing the pro-family coalition and believes their legal position is solid. She told The Interim, “We have a very persuasive case. This is not a question of equality as the homosexuals claim. It is a question of special status.”

That special status is a political “hot potato” that no credible politician wants to handle. Even the federal Liberals, who have not been shy about giving every other special benefit and privilege to homosexuals, have been reticent to redefine the institution of marriage. During the last major parliamentary debate over homosexual rights, arch-liberal Justice Minister Anne McLellan introduced an amendment to Bill C-23 that stated marriage is defined as “a union between one man and one woman.”

Landolt explains that the equality rights section of the Charter cannot be used to attack the marriage provisions of the constitution as EGALE is attempting to do. She says, “Marriage falls within the federal jurisdiction under the Constitution, and one can’t use one part of the Constitution to strike down another. Marriage is clearly defined as one man and one woman. If you want to redefine marriage, you have to amend the Constitution.”

Moreover, Landolt believes there is little precedent anywhere for redefining marriage. “The only country that has done it is the Netherlands, but there you have legalized narcotics, prostitution and euthanasia as well. They have no criteria on anything,” she says.

The legal efforts of the pro-family groups have been bolstered by a separate intervention by a coalition of religious groups including the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. The religious coalition will raise issues of faith, culture and religious freedom in support of the traditional definition of marriage.

While admitting that nothing is certain in Canadian courts anymore, Landolt remains optimistic. “We have enormously persuasive arguments on our side. It would be very surprising legally if they were to rule against us.”