In July, Canada legally defined marriage as being between "two persons" with passage of Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act. The push to legitimize marriage between homosexuals originated in the past four years from court decisions in three Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

But Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) president Bruce Clemenger told CT, "Evangelical pastors and congregations will continue to celebrate and promote marriage as the exclusive and enduring union of one man and one woman."

Such a stance has solid support in some faith communities. A conservative Christian-Jewish-Muslim-Sikh group known as the Defend Marriage Coalition drew a March 5 crowd of 15,000 to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Delegates to the convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in Winnipeg rejected a resolution to allow congregations a "local option" to introduce blessings for homosexual couples.

The change in definition will not legally affect the right of clergy to choose at which marriages they officiate. However, evangelicals and Catholics say they need specific protections on related issues. These include refusing to rent church halls for same-sex marriage receptions and baptizing the adopted children of gay couples. Evangelical leaders fear that gay-rights activists will now focus their pressure tactics on denominations.

Janet Epp Buckingham, the EFC's law and public policy director, suggests "there is little doubt that religious freedom will be compromised" by C-38.

United Church, Unitarian, and Metropolitan Community church leaders support the law. Already offering religious rites for gay couples, they maintain that religious freedom is well protected.

Religious freedom emerged as an issue when the provincial governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba insisted that marriage commissioners, who perform civil ceremonies, resign if their religious beliefs preclude them from performing ceremonies for homosexuals. In Saskatchewan, the justice minister is investigating a complaint filed against a marriage commissioner who refused to perform a homosexual marriage. In other provinces, dissenting commissioners are being protected by "grandfather" clauses in their contracts.

The debate will likely continue, as Christian groups have become newly energized. Focus on the Family Canada has announced a plan to launch an Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Marriage and Family.

Gwen Landolt, national spokeswoman for REAL Women, a conservative advocacy group, told CT she agrees with the assertion of Gareth Kirby, editor of Xtra West, a gay newspaper. Kirby says REAL Women's engagement in the debate "threatens to change the face of Canadian politics."

Related Elsewhere:

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has information on defending marriage in Canada, which includes legal and religious freedom issues.

News elsewhere includes:

Cardinal holds line on same-sex bill | A Canadian cardinal who had been considered a possible successor to Pope John Paul says same-sex marriage is threatening religious freedom. (Canadian Press, July 13, 2005)
Canada legalises gay marriage nationwide | Canada became the fourth country to legalise gay marriage nationwide after a landmark bill was signed into law. (The Age, Australia, July 21, 2005)
Canada legalizes gay marriage | Fourth nation to grant full legal rights to same-sex couples (Associated Press, July 20, 2005)
Gay marriage now officially legal across Canada | Canada formally became the fourth country in the world to legalize gay marriages on Wednesday after the country's Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation. (Reuters, July 20, 2005)

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