Statement by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Reference on Marriage

Wednesday, December 08 2004

1.      The members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) welcome the strong affirmation by the Supreme Court of Canada today in its decision on the marriage reference in which it indicates that “The protection of freedom of religion afforded by s. 2(a) of the Charter is broad and jealously guarded in our Charter jurisprudence” (paragraph 53). We are pleased that religious officials are protected “from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same-sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs” (paragraph 60), and that this judgment confirms that freedom of religion also prevents “the compulsory use of sacred places for the celebration of such marriages” (paragraph 59).

2.      The Catholic Church will continue to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. We expect freedom of conscience and religion to be respected by federal, provincial and territorial governments, so that no one is compelled to act contrary to his or her beliefs.

3.      We note that the Supreme Court did not address the fourth question regarding the opposite-sex requirement of marriage, thus inviting Parliament to decide.

4.      We continue to affirm that marriage is a loving, life-giving partnership between a man and a woman. Its purpose is the good of the couple and the procreation and education of children – and thus necessary for the survival of society. As the committed and stable relationship of a man and a woman, marriage is basic to the stability of society and family life. In so far as it is a social institution, marriage is concerned with the common good, not individual rights.

5.      The forum for discussion now moves from the courts to Parliament where the government has promised to introduce legislation. We urge Members of Parliament to have a full, informed and vigorous debate on this issue, and we ask there be a free vote so that all members may vote according to their conscience.

6.      As pastoral leaders of the Catholic community in Canada, we intend to be part of this debate. We encourage all Canadians to participate in the forthcoming debate in any way that they can and to make their views known to their representatives in the House of Commons and Senate. In particular, we call on lay Catholics, especially those who have the experience of marriage, to play an active role in this debate. It is vital that Canadians take the time to have a wide-ranging dialogue on this foundational institution in which the next generation is created and nurtured.

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