B. C. Court of Appeal Decision on Definition of Marriage: The CCCB President Urges the Federal Government to Appeal

Thursday, May 15 2003

The Honourable Martin Cauchon, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
East Memorial Building, 4th Floor
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H8

Dear Mr. Cauchon:

On behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops I urge you to appeal the recent decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the case of Barbeau et al. v. the Attorney General of Canada et al. that decided that the definition of marriage be changed to include same-sex partners.

We ask you to continue to make the very compelling argument that was made on behalf of the Government of Canada in its written argument filed in the case of Halpern et al. v. Canada (Attorney General) et al. which recently argued in the Ontario Court of Appeal that:

The Charter was never intended to effect a wholesale alteration of the fundamental societal structures and institutions within which it emerged. The definitional boundaries of marriage, delineated as the lawful union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of any other person, do not engage or violate the constitutional rights of equality, security or religious freedom of those whose unions have an essential difference.

We support the continued recognition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. We believe that the fundamental purposes or characteristics of marriage are the good of the couple, as well as the procreation and education of children, which in turn are for the good of society. Marriage thus has anthropological, personal, social and religious dimensions that have deeply entwined roots in our history and culture.

Marriage as a public commitment between a man and a woman has profound religious significance for all faiths. Marriage as a word and an institution is full of history, meaning and symbolism, and one that should be kept for this unique reality. The State also has a fundamental interest in this social institution that continues to be the place where most children are procreated and nurtured and, according to recent statistics, continues to be the most stable environment in which to raise a family.

We know that not every married couple has children, that not all children are born in marriages, and that not all marriages lead to stable and nurturing environments for children. We also recognize that, with the help of new technologies and the intervention of a third party of the opposite sex, same-sex unions can have children. Exceptions, however, do not invalidate but prove the rule; individual practices and choices do not determine the objectives of an institution such as marriage which plays such a pivotal social role. This point was forcefully made in the written argument filed on behalf of the Government of Canada in the Halpern case where it was stated that “Marriage is not simply a shopping list of functional attributes but a unique opposite-sex bond that is common across different times, cultures and religions as a virtually universal norm.”

The finding of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that the primary purpose of marriage has evolved from procreation to an expression of commitment fails to convince because it is essentially based on the above noted exceptions. The finding should concern Canadians about the future of our country and disturb Members of Parliament who are ultimately responsible for the development of social policy in this country.

As you know, members of the House of Commons affirmed on 9 June 1999, by a vote of 216 to 55, “That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and Parliament will take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.”

We respectfully ask you to live up to this resolution and do everything necessary to preserve the definition of marriage, including appealing the recent decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Married couples perform a role within society which is of service to all and distinct from other forms of human relationships. We strongly urge you to maintain this distinction for the good of all Canadians.


Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V.
Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

CC: Members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights