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Canadian bishops call for more debate after Supreme Court judgment

.- The Supreme Court of Canada may have issued its judgment on same-sex marriage, but the debate isn’t over yet, said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

The Supreme Court released its long-awaited judgment on the constitutionality of a federal draft bill on same-sex marriage yesterday.

The 19-page judgment states that the federal government has the right to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and 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.”

In a statement, the bishops noted that the judgment also states that freedom of religion prevents “the compulsory use of sacred places for the celebration of such marriages.”

However, the bishops also noted that the Supreme Court did not answer the question about whether the current definition of marriage, which has an opposite-sex requirement, is constitutional. This, say the bishops, is a question that Parliament must now decide in “a full, informed and vigorous debate.”

“The forum for discussion now moves from the courts to Parliament,” they said.

 “As pastoral leaders of the Catholic community in Canada, we intend to be part of this debate,” the bishops said, encouraging all Canadians to participate in the debate as well.

“In particular, we call on lay Catholics, especially those who have the experience of marriage, to play an active role,” they said.

The CCCB has participated actively in the debate since its beginnings, speaking out on the issue and urging Canadians to participate in letter-writing campaigns. The bishops submitted a brief in 2003 to a parliamentary hearings committee. They also presented a brief before the Supreme Court in October.

“As the committed and stable relationship of a man and a woman, marriage is basic to the stability of society and family life,” the bishops reiterated in their statement yesterday. “In so far as it is a social institution, marriage is concerned with the common good, not individual rights.”

The bishops asked that the debate be followed by for free vote in the House of Commons, “so that all members may vote according to their conscience.” Prime Minister Paul Martin has already guaranteed that a free vote would be held.

“The Catholic Church will continue to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as the union of a man and a woman,” the bishops affirmed.

“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,” they stated.

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