TORONTO, Dec. 9, 2004 The Catholic Civil Rights League (ccrl.ca) today denounced the Supreme Court of Canadas decision in the marriage reference questions as an unprecedented pre-empting of parliamentary debate by the judiciary, but noted that debate and legislative change remains in the hands of Parliament.
In their non-binding ruling on the governments reference questions, the justices ruled that Parliament, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has the exclusive legislative authority to change the definition of marriage to include same sex couples, that to do so would be consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedom, and that religious leaders are protected from having to marry same sex couples. The court declined to rule on a fourth question, whether the traditional definition of marriage being between a man and a woman is constitutional.
The court should have returned the reference questions to Parliament for the proper stages of the introduction and debate of a bill before they gave an opinion, notes Phil Horgan, CCRL president. As far as we know, this is the first time the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on proposed legislation before it was introduced in the House. Involving the court at this stage was an attempt to circumvent the democratic process in order to impose a fundamental social change that many Canadians do not want. This is a bad and dangerous precedent that could be invoked in future to stifle debate on other divisive social issues. All indications are that Canadians care deeply about marriage and that a significant number do not want the definition changed.
However, Parliament still must introduce and debate this legislation before it becomes law. We will be working with all Canadians who value true marriage to defeat any legislation in favour of same sex marriage every step of the way. The decision must now be made by the public and their elected officials, not the courts. We want MPs to know that they will be held accountable.
In particular, Prime Minister Paul Martin and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler are obliged to have a truly free vote on this legislation, and must call off their whips in caucus and cabinet. Members of Parliament should not have their consciences stifled on this most fundamental issue. It is abhorent to think that members elected by constituents precisely due to their expressed views on same sex marriage should bracket those views or check their consciences at the door of the House Commons. The true test of religious and conscientious freedom in Canada will not be limited to churches and their congregations. Members of Parliament must be free to vote their consciences on legislation going to the core of their beliefs.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244 firstname.lastname@example.org