Ontario Leaning Toward Same-Sex "Marriage"
Battles Heat Up in Canada, and Elsewhere
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TORONTO, JULY 27, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Homosexual groups have claimed some recent successes in their campaign to obtain marriage rights. In Canada the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages must be registered by the provincial government, the Globe and Mail reported July 12.
Couples involved in the legal action argued that the governments' refusal to register their marriages violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The court suspended implementation of its decision for 24 months to give the federal Parliament time to recast the legal definition of marriage as the "lawful and voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others," the National Post reported July 13. If no action is taken, the definition of marriage in Ontario will change to the union of "two persons."
The ruling contrasts with a decision last year by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. That tribunal decided that discriminating against same-sex couples is justified under the Charter of Rights, because marriage is "the institution on which the family is built," and largely exists to provide a structure for raising children, the Globe and Mail reported Oct. 3.
"The legal nature of marriage is so entrenched in our society, and the changes in law required so uncertain in the event same-sex marriages are to be recognized by the state, that Parliament or legislatures, and not the court, must make" the decision, stated the judgment.
An appeal against the British Columbia decision will be heard next February, and judgment on a similar case in Quebec is pending.
Reacting to the latest ruling, Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said he has no objection to same-sex marriage, and his Conservative government will not be appealing the ruling, the National Post reported July 17. The paper also reported that Martin Cauchon, the country's Justice Minister, said the federal government is still working on its response to the court ruling.
The National Post noted in a July 20 editorial that when federal Parliament was drafting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1981, "it or its committees seven times (out of seven) turned down requests to include sexual orientation as a protected category, along with race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. Homosexual rights are now protected in the Charter only because the Supreme Court read them in later, over the expressed will of Parliament."
The editorial observed that the court also overruled Ontario's legislators who, in 1994, overwhelmingly rejected a law that would have altered the definition of spouse to include homosexuals, a first step toward permitting marriage and adoptions by same-sex couples.
Canada's Catholic bishops protested the Ontario decision. In a letter dated July 19 and addressed to the federal Justice Minister, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Jacques Berthelet, referred to the House of Commons decision made three years ago.
At that time, parliamentarians overwhelmingly affirmed: "That in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."
"In keeping with this resolution, we urge you to appeal the decision of the Ontario Divisional Court," wrote Bishop Berthelet.
Developments in Europe
Homosexual groups gained another legal victory, this time in Germany, when the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a new law that gives same-sex unions some of the privileges of marriages, Reuters reported July 17. The court rejected a suit by some states which argued that recognizing these marriages would upset family values enshrined in the Constitution.
The law, championed by the Green Party and approved by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats with whom they govern, came into force last August.
Under the new law, couples who register their relationships have the same inheritance rights as heterosexuals and may share a common surname. Their foreign partners will be allowed to join them in Germany too. But the law does not give same-sex couples the tax advantages granted to heterosexual married pairs, or the right to adopt children. The same-sex relationships are not officially called "marriages" but "registered life partnerships."
According to a July 19 report in the Spanish paper El País, the Belgian government is considering a proposal to go ahead with full legal recognition of same-sex marriages. This follows the Dutch move in April 2001, where same-sex couples were granted identical legal rights, including adoptions, as heterosexual couples.
Other European nations -- Norway, Sweden, Denmark and France -- have laws that give forms of legal recognition to same-sex unions and give those couples a series of legal rights, which vary from country to country.
Battle under way in U.S.
On the other side of the Atlantic, battle lines over the issue are being drawn up. In January the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that Vermont's civil-unions law does not create a partnership equal to marriage, the Associated Press reported Jan. 25. The court ruled that Susan Freer, who has three sons from a previous marriage, and her lesbian partner could not seek child-visitation rights because they are not married. The couple established a civil union in Vermont in 2000.
Then, last month, lawyers for Lambda Legal, a national homosexual rights advocacy group, filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven same-sex couples in New Jersey, the New York Times reported June 26. The case seeks to establish full marriage rights.
The Times said the decision to file in New Jersey was no accident: Its Supreme Court is considered among the most liberal in the nation. New Jersey courts rejected the Boy Scouts of America ban on homosexual members, later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and have also upheld the adoption rights of unmarried couples, both homosexual and heterosexual.
To head off possible court decisions in favor of same-sex marriages, the group Alliance for Marriage announced May 15 the introduction of a constitutional amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposed amendment defines marriage as only "the union of a man and a woman."
On its Web site the Alliance defines itself as "a nonpartisan research and education organization dedicated to promoting marriage and addressing the crisis of family disintegration in the United States."
On Feb. 1, 2001, John Paul II, in his address to the members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, defended the idea of marriage as being between persons of the opposite sex. The concept of human nature underlying marriage, explained the Pope, is not just a cultural phenomenon that can be changed at will.
The attempt to present homosexual unions as comparable to marriage is based on an empirical conception of nature that fails to understand that "the human body is not something extrinsic to the person," the Holy Father said. "Marriage is not just any union between human persons that can be formed according to a variety of cultural models."
Moreover, he said, marriage must be seen in relation to the family and procreation in which "the masculinity and femininity of the married couple are constitutively open to the gift of children." In other words, denial of marriage for same-sex couples is not discrimination, but rather a recognition of fundamental facts about human nature and marriage.