Canada Court Same-Sex Ruling Spurs Spectrum of Christian Opinions

Canada’s Supreme Court’s landmark decision to open marriage to redefinition, Thursday, sparked caution, criticism and praise from a spectrum of Canadian Christian observers.

While the court’s opinion does not automatically legalize gay marriages nationally, it opens that possibility by allowing members of the Parliament to vote on the issue; already, the nation is severely divided on the issue with some provinces allowing and other provinces banning the unions.

Following the court’s ruling, Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin recognized the sensitivities involved in passing the bill legislatively.

"For many Canadians and many Parliamentarians, this is a difficult issue involving personal and religious convictions and it represents a very significant change to a long-standing institution," Martin said.

Should the bill pass – as many conservative and evangelical Canadians fear – Canada would become the third nation in the world to legalize gay marriages at the federal level.

The court’s decision is a culmination of dozens of legal battles on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. According to the Associated Press, “public opinion is evenly divided on the matter, and advocates for both sides are preparing for the final phase of the battle.”

As expected, the ultra liberal United Church of Canada (UCC) praised the ruling, calling it a “positive step toward justice.” Last October, the UCC spoke in support of the legalization of same-sex marriages before the Supreme Court. Even before the secular community opened itself to gay marriages, the UCC legalized gay “marriage ceremonies” within their pews, sparking criticism from numerous traditional Christian denominations across North America.

Meanwhile, Gordon Young, pastor of the First Assembly of God Church in St. John's, Newfoundland, said he was highly disappointed by the ruling.

"It's a sad day for our country," Young told CBC television news. "God is in the DNA of this nation. We believe that changing the definition of marriage is changing the divine institution that God put in place for the order of our society."

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), one of the largest evangelical denominations in the nation, reminded Christians that the battle to maintain traditional marriage is not yet lost.

“While the Supreme Court has said that Parliament may redefine marriage, it has not said that it must redefine marriage to include same-sex couples,” says Bruce Clemenger, President of the EFC.

Clemenger explained that while the court’s Thursday decision allowed religious groups to choose for themselves whether they will bless homosexual unions, such measures may not sufficiently protect religious institutions, because such protection is granted province by province. Therefore, Clemenger said, many of the MPs may choose not to support the bill because of its impediment to religious freedom.

“Many MPs have said that their support for redefining marriage is contingent on the protection of religious freedom. But now that the Supreme Court has said that this is a provincial responsibility, the federal Parliament cannot adequately protect these important freedoms. Consequently, many MPs may withdraw their support,” said Clemenger.

Clemenger also expressed hopes that the people of Canada will realized the sacred importance of traditional marriage.

“Marriage is an institution of deep significance to people of faith and others in society," concludes Clemenger. "Therefore, the people of Canada need to have a voice in how marriage is understood and recognized in this country.”

Political leaders also stood at different ends of the rope. Most members of the Liberal Party praised the ruling, calling it a “victory for Canadian values.” However, some remained true to the traditional values of Canada.

"I do personally have a problem with redefining marriage and I'm sure some of my colleagues do as well," said Roy Cullen of the Liberal Party.

Cullen is one of the few Liberal MPs that are expected to join federal Conservatives in the last battle to protect traditional marriage in Canada.