Catholic Spirit: Canadian panel members share their experience of same-sex marriage laws

(by Barb Ernster)
October 9, 2012

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, and other Canadians led a panel discussion on the impact of the 2005 same-sex marriage law on parental and religious rights in Canada, and what a similar law could do to Minnesota if marriage is redefined.

Several hundred people, including Catholic clergy, attended the Monday morning event at the University of St. Thomas Law School, which was sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

The archbishop presented a series of cases that have occurred before the Canadian Human Rights Commission since the Civil Marriage Act came into effect, in which people’s religious rights and freedoms have been trumped by “hate speech” laws.

Oftentimes the charges are ambiguous but can lead to thousands of dollars in fines or worse.  Few of these cases are covered by the media and many decisions include gag orders, so you never hear of them, the archbishop told the audience.

“This is not China; this is Canada,” he said, adding that “worrisome trends” are developing in the form of enforcement of same-sex marriage and lifestyles through coercion. These include harassment of Christians who stand up for their beliefs, public embarrassment, loss of employment, reversal of tax-exempt status, and numerous trivial lawsuits that in some cases have forced businesses to close.

Chilling effect

Despite concessions in the law to provide for the freedom of religion for churches and religious groups, “there has been a definite chill among those who have legitimate reasons to oppose some rights for homosexuals,” Archbishop Prendergast said. “Part of this is from the anti-hate speech mechanisms in Canada that applies fines, apologies and forced sensitivity training.”

He quoted Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary, Alberta, who was summoned before the commission in 2005 to defend his pastoral letter defining Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage:  “Human rights laws designed as a shield are now being used as a sword. The issue is rarely truth formation, but rather censorship, and applying a particular theology through threats, sanctions and punitive measures.”

Jordan Lorence, a lawyer and senior vice-president for the Alliance Defending Freedom, gave a presentation on similar cases appearing in the United States.

Swedish Christian pastor Ake Green then  told his story of being jailed for presenting the Christian teaching on same-sex relationships in a homily to his congregation. His story ( made international news and produced an outcry in Europe.  He told the audience to show courage and resolve, and stand together. “Never stop preaching the truth,” he said.

Other impacts

A second panel discussion focused on the impact of the law on education and parental rights. Phil Lees of Public Education Advocates for Christian Equity (PEACE), who spent most of his career in public education, said the same-sex marriage law had an immediate effect on Canadian schools.

“It was the tipping point that opened the floodgates to curriculum and a school environment that affirms same-sex marriage, alternative sexual lifestyles and the related values,” he said.

By 2009, the Ministry of Education mandated that all schools, public and private, begin the process of integrating this instruction, and government legislation affirms this direction. One program — described as completely relativistic and requiring children to question their own religious upbringing — was required of homeschool and private schools, which are not exempt from the mandates.

If same-sex marriage is legalized in Minnesota, the new law will require the public schools to change the curriculum to align with the new definition of marriage and the related sexual alternative content, said Lees. “Experience shows that whenever same-sex marriage becomes law, children will be exposed to an increasingly sexualized curriculum and school environment at an early age, as early as kindergarten.”

Some school boards have decreed that children cannot be removed from instruction about homosexuality because of their religious objections.

Christian father and dentist Steve Tourloukis testified about his attempts to get a declarative judgment giving parents the right to be notified in advance of such curriculum. His request has been denied, and media editorials have described his actions as “sinister” and part of a “massive right wing conspiracy.” Yet, requests to get advance notice on math curriculums and other subjects are not denied, he said.

“Do the people of Minnesota want to live in a state where you have to go to court to find out what your children are learning? This is not hyperbole,” he said. “The dispersion of parental rights is typical in jurisdictions where marriage has been redefined. There has already been a case in Massachusetts.”

Getting a say

Albertos Polizogopoulos, a lawyer and advocate for parental rights in Canada, told the audience that unlike Minnesota, Canadians did not get a say in the same-sex marriage law, “it was thrust upon us by the courts.”

The law not only redefined marriage, but family, as in cases where a child has two mothers and a biological father. It has also taken the focus of marriage off the children and put it on the adults, he said, and the unintended consequences are far-reaching. There have been several hundred human rights cases brought against people who are simply voicing their opinion in letters to the editors or speaking in a public forum.

Lorence summed up the battle against redefining marriage as similar to the battle against the Arian heresy of the third century, which was growing in acceptance among Christians. St. Athanasius went to his grave not knowing whether the doctrine of the deity of Christ would prevail in church teaching.

“It’s more important to be diligent and keep fighting on this. We need to be faithful and do what’s right and leave the results to God,” he said. “Future generations of people are dependent on us.”