Anglican church stays out of marriage debate

Published March 1, 2005

The Anglican Church of Canada does not intend to join other faith communities in the brewing debate over the federal government’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage in Canada, said its primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison.

“We haven’t weighed in on that at all and it’s because our own tradition has never been challenged,” he said in an interview. “We haven’t really had the contemporary discussion, there has been no conversation in any of our councils on the issue of same-sex marriage, so we live with our time-honoured tradition that marriage is between a man and a woman, and the canon on marriage, and that’s where we are.”

Archbishop Hutchison also said that while he, personally, opposed redefining the traditional definition of marriage, he cannot articulate that as the national church’s official position. “The Roman Catholic archbishop is able to take the position without having consulted anybody in the pews, but that’s not our tradition,” he said. “Whenever I speak publicly I have to go to the archives, go to the library and see what statements we’ve passed over the years.”

Churches in Canada have found themselves on opposite sides in the debate about a federal government bill on same-sex marriage pending, at press time, in Parliament. The bill would amend the marriage law to refer to the union of “two persons” rather than of “a man and a woman.”

Roman Catholic leaders have urged their flock to contact their local members of Parliament urging them to vote against the bill. Marc Cardinal Ouellet of Quebec, who is the highest ranking Catholic cleric in Canada, said same-sex marriage “could bring in its wake bitter and unpredictable demographic, social, cultural and religious consequences.”

But Rev. Peter Short, moderator of the United Church of Canada, the country’s biggest Protestant denomination, called same-sex marriage “a step on the path to justice, peace, and the common good.”

In a letter to parliamentarians, Mr. Short said, “Some will protest that we must have faith in the Bible, and that the Bible takes an unfavourable view of intimate same-sex relationships. But I would answer that Christian faith is not an uncritical repetition of a received text. It is a mindful commitment to the power of love, to which the text seeks to give witness.”

Some church leaders and legal experts have also expressed concern that while the Supreme Court ruled that forcing religious authorities to perform same-sex marriages would be contrary to the right to religious freedom, there was a grey area between protection of religion and protection against discrimination.

Asked for his opinion, Archbishop Hutchison said that if compelled by the government to marry people of the same gender, priests could simply renounce their licences to perform weddings. He said there is a school of thought in the Anglican church “that we shouldn’t be government functionaries, anyway. Marriage is best handled by a civil contract.”


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