Letter to the Honourable Members of the Senate and the Members of the House of Commons: Proposed changes to the meaning and nature of marriage

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For your ongoing reflections on the proposed changes to the meaning and nature of marriage, enclosed is a copy in English and French of the brief by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops which was presented on 18 May 2005 to the Special Legislative Committee on Bill C-38, An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes.

Together with millions of other Canadians of all faiths and no religious faith, the Roman and Eastern Catholic Bishops of Canada, as the spiritual leaders of 13 million Catholics in this country, remain deeply concerned about the impact that Bill C-38 will have on society, both in terms of altering the significance of marriage and also in terms of the challenges that are already being posed to the basic freedoms of conscience and religion, as well as to freedom of expression.

In addition to the following summary of key points in the enclosed brief, I wish as well to convey on behalf of the Bishops of Canada the following concerns:

1.      Historically, the interest of the State in marriage – namely, the creation and nurturing of the next generation of citizens – has defined the natural limits of the institution of marriage. Once this interest is undermined, there are no longer any definable limits, and marriage as the most basic of all social institutions becomes meaningless.

2.      The Supreme Court of Canada in its December 2004 ruling on the marriage reference did not suggest that the proposed redefinition of marriage was necessary in order to conform with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor did it suggest that the traditional definition of marriage was contrary to the Charter.

3.      However, the Supreme Court did rule that Section 2 of the proposed legislation is “ultra vires Parliament”, as it is the provinces, not the Government of Canada, which have the authority to pass legislation regarding the solemnization of marriage. In effect, this means there is no basis for federal assurances that religious officials cannot be compelled to officiate at marriages contrary to the tenets of their faith. 

4.      In voting on this proposed legislation, two political parties represented in the House of Commons have so far shown they consider the basic freedoms of conscience and religion to be secondary by refusing all their members a free vote on this issue. This is a troubling precedent, since marriage is a fundamental question that involves basic social and personal values.

Canadians are deeply divided on the proposal to redefine marriage. This is not the moment to rush into legislation which has such enormous social and legal consequences. Continued reflection, research, study and discussion are needed in order to ensure the best for our society and for children who are its future.

Key points in the Brief by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Presented to the Special Legislative Committee on Bill C-38

The natural significance and role of marriage are essential for society:

  • The right to marriage is based on natural law, but this right is not in itself absolute.
  • As Cicero correctly observed, “True law is right reason in agreement with nature.”
  • When a society issues arbitrary laws that reject the primacy of natural law, the result is not only the risk of social chaos and disorder but, as the 20th century witnessed, a potential basis for state totalitarianism.
  • The commitment and partnership of a man and a woman in marriage are central to stability in family life.
  • If Bill C-38 is adopted, it will alter the nature of marriage and the family, and further contribute to their erosion.
  • Children function more effectively when they grow up in the company of their father and mother, who have different and complementary roles in their lives.
  • It is in the interest of the state to retain the possibility of fostering, protecting and encouraging the type of relationships that are most beneficial to it – conjugal relationships between a man and a woman – unions whose procreative potential generates new citizens and thus ensures our collective future.

Basic freedoms of conscience and religion are already under threat:

  • If the federal government proceeds to alter the definition and nature of marriage, then it must also ensure that Canadians will not be compelled to act contrary to their conscience and their religious beliefs in this matter.
  • Leaders and members of faith groups throughout Canada are already being challenged about their right to teach and preach on marriage and homosexuality in accordance with their conscience and religious beliefs. 
  • An organization associated with a faith group has already been summoned before a human rights tribunal because it refused to rent its facilities for the celebration of a marriage incompatible with the religious convictions of that faith.
  • Civil officials who preside at marriages in certain Canadian provinces and territories have already been told that their conscience and religious beliefs are not protected in law, even when officiating at a marriage would be irreconcilable with their personal convictions.
  • The federal government has given no assurance to faith groups which do not accept the proposed redefinition of marriage that they will not be penalized with respect to their charitable status.

Yours sincerely,


Msgr. Mario Paquette, P.H.
General Secretary
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops


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