Leaders from more than 40 religious traditions in Canada issued a joint declaration in support of traditional marriage November 9.
The initiative began earlier this year when Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), was meeting with representatives from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to discuss a number of issues. In the course of the discussion, the suggestion was made to issue a joint ‘Declaration on Marriage.’
However, once the statement was drafted, “there was nothing in the document that would keep other faith groups from signing on,” said Doug Cryer, director of public policy for the EFC.
The Declaration states that the traditional definition of marriage “is not exclusively religious. It is shared by societies and cultures throughout the world and throughout time”.
So the partners invited other groups to also sign the Declaration. So far, the signatories include Orthodox church groups, Seventh Day Adventists, various other Christian groups and several Muslim groups.
Syed B. Soharwardy, president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, said he was asked to read the declaration, and he agreed with it, so he signed it. He said it is good for people of faith to come together on common issues since “we all have the same values regarding marriage.”
He added, “Marriage was designed by the Almighty Creator and should not be redefined by some people using their own values or desires.” He said Canada is a free country and gays are free to have any relationships they want — but they don’t have the right to “change a sacred institution.”
Cryer said other groups, including Jewish and Sikh groups, are considering signing. The delay is related to different decision-making processes in the various organizational structures. “Some can sign on in a day. Others take weeks,” he said.
Cryer said the original groups are also working on a way for pastors and even members of the general public to sign the Declaration, possibly through a website. They are currently working through the technical procedures.
Copies of the Declaration have been sent to all members of Parliament and senators. Prime Minister Harper has stated that a free vote will be held this fall on whether to reopen the debate on the definition of marriage. If that vote passes, then a parliamentary committee would likely be established to study the issue before a new law is presented.
Cryer said current indications are that the first vote, now expected in December, will be close, that there is going to be “a lot of lobbying” by groups on both sides of the issue in the next few weeks, and that the Declaration may play a role in tipping the balance.
However, he said the Declaration is “still valid” even if there is no vote and no matter which way the vote might go. As in the case of abortion, “a vote will not change how people feel on this issue.”
Some homosexual groups have suggested that supporters of traditional marriage want to delay the vote in the hope that a possible Conservative majority government after the next election might be more likely to uphold traditional marriage. However, no groups supporting traditional marriage have openly lobbied for this.
The Declaration has been largely ignored by the major media in Canada, partly because staff illness delayed the sending out of news releases. The media, however, have extensively reported news releases from some gay groups on the issue.
Cryer said the media have not yet realized the significance of so many heads of organizations representing such a large proportion of the Canadian population all agreeing on this issue. “This is truly a historical document,” he said.
Meanwhile, the gay lobby group Canadians for Equal Marriage reported that marriage licences were issued to 2,302 gay couples between June 1 and October 31, 2006, on top of the 10,136 marriages applied for from June 2003 to June 2006.
Some people have speculated that some gay couples are rushing to get married prior to the upcoming vote. Cryer suggested that some of the increase may also be a result of advertising campaigns inviting gays from other countries to come to Canada and get married.
Dave Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, noted that “significant portions of the gay community” itself are not in favour of same-sex marriage and that even 24,000 gay marriage partners in a population of 35 million is “not a huge number.”
However, Cryer said, “It is not so much the marriages themselves that are significant but the changes to law and to public opinion.”
For instance, he said, the bill legalizing same-sex marriage changed the primary definition of parenthood from “natural parents” to “legal parents.” In other words, the courts rather than biology now define who is a parent.
“We haven’t fully appreciated” the significance of this change yet, said Cryer. Quist agreed, citing research that shows it is generally best for children to be raised by their biological parents.
However, said Quist, developments such as in vitro fertilization using sperm donors, no-fault divorce, and same-sex marriage now often deprive children of the right to even know who their biological parents are.
He added that, in voting for same-sex marriage, politicians didn’t even consider what was best for children but only the individual rights of adult gays.
Cryer and Quist both suggested that the Declaration on Marriage rightly places the emphasis where it belongs — on the benefits to society as a whole — and that marriage is not about parents’ rights but about parents sacrificing their own needs and wants for the good of their children.
Cryer also said there has been a massive shift in public opinion and in media comments in the two years since the law was changed. It is not just that more people now favour same-sex marriage, he said; it is also that “political correctness prevents people from publicly disagreeing with the law.”
He cited recent articles in the press, such as a column by John Ibbotson in the Globe and Mail and a report on a speech by Christopher Hitchens in the National Post, which suggested that faith groups are essentially bigots who should not be allowed to speak or teach in favour of traditional marriage, as well as Elton John’s recent statement that all organized religions should be banned.
In this sense, he said, the law authorizing same-sex marriage is “a very defining moment that will negatively affect faith groups in Canada.”