Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin pledged to protect the freedom of religious groups, and even use the notwithstanding clause if necessary, if a law on same-sex marriage in Canada would require religious groups to change their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
In a recent CBC interview, only six days after he was sworn in as Canada’s new prime minister, Martin said that “if a decision [by the Supreme Court of Canada] came down to force churches mosques and synagogues to change their definition of marriage” he would use the notwithstanding clause.
The notwithstanding clause is a provision in Canada’s Charter of Rights, which allows government to invalidate a decision made in court. It allows Parliament to step around, or in a sense veto a law that it decides is not in conformity with the Charter. Implementation of the notwithstanding clause is controversial. Few prime ministers have ever threatened to use it. In fact, it has never been used since the Charter was created in 1982.
Martin clarified that he would not use the notwithstanding clause on a law that would allow same-sex marriage but only on a law that would impact religious freedoms.
“I would not use it [the notwithstanding clause] to take away a right. But I would use it to affirm a right,” he told the CBC Dec. 18.
Martin also confirmed that if same-sex marriage legislation were to be tabled in Parliament, it would be put to a free vote.
A draft bill on same-sex marriage was submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada for judicial review July 17. The court is to determine the constitutionality of the bill. A decision is not expected until late next year.