Foes gear up for gay marriage debate

Last Updated Tue, 05 Oct 2004 14:57:25 EDT

OTTAWA - Both sides in the same-sex marriage debate claimed they were trying to protect personal freedoms and fight discrimination as they staked out their territory a day before key Supreme Court of Canada hearings.

Starting Wednesday, the country's highest court will review the federal government's proposed legislation enshrining the right of gay couples to wed.

Janet Buckingham

Janet Buckingham with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada told a news conference Tuesday that if the Supreme Court lets Ottawa change the definition of marriage across the country, church organizations could be forced to perform same-sex marriages even though that would contradict their beliefs.

She said it's not clear how the government would protect members of the clergy who refuse to perform same-sex marriage on the basis of freedom of religion.

Supporters of gay-marriage rights held their own news conference an hour after the first one.

They expressed confidence that the Supreme Court will reinforce 18 lower-court rulings that have rewritten the definition of marriage in many provinces, decreeing that the Constitution does not permit some types of Canadians to be treated as second-class citizens.

"The law must apply equally, fairly to all our citizens," said Alex Munter, co-chair of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

Lawyer Cynthia Peterson, representing Egale, said she is optimistic that the country's top court will agree with the lower-court judgments.

In the past two years, courts in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Yukon, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have ruled against the ban on gay marriages.

Some church and cultural groups lined up at Tuesday's news conference to support the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry, including the Canadian Unitarian Council and the United Church of Canada.

The government of former prime minister Jean Chrétien referred its draft legislation to the Supreme Court last year.

During the three days of hearings that begin on Wednesday, 28 briefs will be presented on both sides of the issue.

The court is not expected to rule on the issue for months.

Written by CBC News Online staff