Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec, presented the following brief on
behalf of the Canadian bishops' conference, on Bill C-38, the bill redefining
marriage, to the members of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and
Saving Marriage as a
Fundamental Institution Recognized by the State
Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada
behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), I would first like
to thank the Honorable Members of the Senate for this opportunity to present our
vision of marriage and the family as part of the debates on Bill C-38. Inspired
by human and spiritual convictions common to the Canadian people, this vision is
defensible without recourse to religion.
Since November 2002, we have intervened time and time again to convince Members
of Parliament not to redefine the institution of marriage for the benefit of
persons of homosexual orientation who, nonetheless, as human beings deserve the
respect of all their fellow citizens.
Contrary to those who would seek to relegate us to the religious sphere each
time we speak, we are convinced that the current debate is predominantly social
on the nature and value of marriage. For this reason we have set forth arguments
based on natural law and common sense. We will provide a short overview of these
arguments in this brief.
As we reach the end of a political process that carries a grave risk of changing
the nature of marriage and involving largely unforeseeable but assuredly
negative consequences for Canadian society, we are turning to you in the hope
that you will prevent the adoption of this unjust law.
A Bill That Will Profoundly Divide the Country
Throughout the country, numerous voices have been raised to denounce this
government proposal that does not respond to the legitimate needs or
expectations of Canadians. Many consider it to be based on a false understanding
of the fundamental equality between persons, on an erroneous understanding of
human dignity, on a spurious understanding of minority rights, on a faulty
interpretation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and on a
truncated understanding of freedom of religion. We are among these voices.
This colossal misunderstanding risks leading Canada down a slippery slope that
is prejudicial to the common good of its citizens, for it threatens the natural
institution that is the most solid basis of the family, which is itself the
basic unit of society. We are not discussing a trivial reality, but the
cornerstone of our social structure.
Neither the State nor religions invented marriage nor determined its natural
components. They merely institutionalized a reality that existed well before
them, thereby recognizing that the inherent characteristics of this reality
the stability of the couple, as well as the procreation and education of
would assure the common good of society.
Today, the issues of Bill C-38 concern not only the definition and foundations
of marriage as celebrated since time immemorial and recognized by all cultures.
The future of marriage as a fundamental social institution is also being
challenged, as well as the importance for society of the irreplaceable role of a
husband and wife in conceiving and raising children. Their union guarantees a
stable environment for family life, continuity between generations and parental
models involving a father and a mother.
A Truncated Definition That Denatures Marriage
If this bill
is adopted, we will ascribe the term "marriage" to something that is
merely pseudo-marriage, a fiction, a derivative and, in the words of the
Honorable Senator Hervieux-Payette, an imposture.
Logically, all definitions are made
up of a type and a specific difference. Aristotle defines man as a reasonable
(specific difference) animal (genus). Therefore, the definition of marriage as a
"union between two persons to the exclusion of all others" excludes the specific
difference of marriage which is its essential component, namely sexual
difference, the union of a man and a woman. This is a truncated definition,
applicable perhaps to angels of pure hearts, but not very adequate in defining
human beings who are by nature sexual and complementary.
The redefinition proposed in Bill C-38 does not promote the evolution of
marriage, but instead breaks irrevocably both with human history as well as with
the meaning and very nature of marriage. We have no illusions: it implies a
distortion of the natural institution of marriage. If this bill is adopted, we
will ascribe the term "marriage" to something that is merely pseudo-marriage, a
fiction, a derivative and, in the words of the Honorable Senator Hervieux-Payette,
Despite efforts to sow confusion by changing the definition of words, it will
not change the objective reality of marriage
a heterosexual institution in its essence.
For us, and for a majority of Canadians, marriage will remain the exclusive
lifelong covenant of the love of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all
others. A union possessing the natural capacity to generate new lives, which has
as its purposes the couple's well-being as well as the procreation and education
of children. A relationship that satisfies individual needs, but is also for the
common good, and consequently deserving the preference and protection of the
State. The government has a responsibility to favor and encourage this type of
union, since marriage between a man and a woman ensures the future of society
and constitutes the ideal environment for the development of children.
A False Interpretation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Relying on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and decisions by the
Supreme Court and lower courts, promoters of Bill C-38 maintain that the
universal definition of marriage violates the equality rights of a Canadian
minority composed of same-sex partners, flouts their dignity and generates
discrimination based on sexual orientation. But does it really?
To answer this question, we refer to a reflection by Gérard Lévesque, a Quebec
philosopher and independent researcher in ethics and jurisprudence: "The courts'
false notion of equality leads to a false notion of discrimination: by
identifying equality as being a perfection results in perceiving any difference
as abnormal and discriminatory. This false perception of discrimination prevents
an appropriate reading of the Charter.
"It should not be regarded as discriminatory or unjust to treat someone
according to his or her true situation, or to accord special status or the
granting of different treatment to people because of genuine differences. On the
contrary, to act in this way is to be just and equitable. A sensible application
of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows legislation that conforms
to these principles. For example, Section 15 of the Charter forbids ...
discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age or mental disability. And the
same Charter stipulates that every Canadian citizen has the right to vote.
Nevertheless, Section 3 of the Canada Elections Act does not grant this right to
those who are not considered as having reached the age for making important
political choices. ... It follows that if the interpretation of the Charter were
to ignore obvious differences, it would be applied without discernment and, what
is more, in a way that is contrary to the common good" (manuscript, February
2005; CCCB translation from the French).
Heterosexual and homosexual unions must therefore be compared to determine
whether they are perfectly identical or whether they present characteristics
which justify different treatment and different names. No one disputes that
same-sex partners can truly love each other and wish to share their life
together. If marriage is reduced to a relationship of intimacy between
consenting adults, then there is no reason to refuse it. And it is not enough
that one group sees marriage in this way in order that it receive legal,
therefore public recognition.
As we have seen, however, marriage is a great deal more than a relationship of
interdependence between consenting adults. It aims at much more than the
well-being and fulfillment of the partners. It possesses another constituent
element, namely, the procreative potential of the man and woman who are making
the commitment. The sexual relationship between two men or two women is not
equivalent to the sexual relationship between a man and a woman because they do
not have the biological capacity to generate new lives. It must also be added
that with regard to education of children, the same values cannot reasonably be
attributed to both types of union. The principal right of children is to be born
of an act of love and to live in complete communion with a father and mother.
Therefore, it is neither unjust nor discriminatory to name and treat differently
two realities that are so intrinsically different both anatomical and
psychoaffective perspective. On the contrary, it would be unjust and
discriminatory toward married heterosexual couples to treat them this way. The
State must accord special treatment to a man and woman who marry, not because of
the exclusivity, dependence, duration or sexual nature of their union, but
because of its vital function of procreation and its function of socialization
that encourages complementarity between man and woman for the greater good of
false notion of equality leads to a false notion of discrimination: by
identifying equality as being a perfection results in perceiving any
difference as abnormal and discriminatory. This false perception of
discrimination prevents an appropriate reading of the Charter."
"When the State uniquely privileges
marriage it takes the position that it is in the best interest of society for
children to be born and raised in a community where they experience the cause of
their biological and historical identity as a loving union preserved by each
parent placing the needs of others over their own. By promoting marriage to be
the exclusive union between one man and one woman, the State not only protects
the rights of children but encourages the values of commitment, restraint and
diversity that are needed to preserve community at large" (R.M.T. Schmid, Oxford
University, in Zenit, 12 July 2004).
If same-sex partners are excluded from marriage, it is not because of their
sexual orientation, but because of the absence between them of a sexual
complementarity that defines the specific difference of marriage. Thus, they are
naturally incapable of procreation and less capable of educating the next
generation of citizens
a determining criterion of public interest.
To affirm that there is a difference between heterosexual and homosexual unions
is not unjust discrimination against same-sex partners. This was recognized by
the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2002 when refusing to hear a complaint
against the New Zealand Court of Appeal which had just refuted the idea (Quilter
vs. New Zealand [A.G., 1997] ICHRL 129) that banning discrimination on the basis
of sexual orientation implied a right to marriage between same-sex partners. The
Court of Appeal had determined that "not all differences in treatment are
Furthermore, the argument of those promoting homosexual "marriage" in favor of
equal rights is also based on a false notion of respect for human dignity. The
equality and dignity of persons do not depend on race, religion, sex, sexual
orientation or marital status. Their dignity and equality are based on the
simple fact that they are members of the human race. To respect their dignity,
neither the State nor society is obliged to legally accept their "lifestyle"
that has no reason to be publicly recognized as a social value.
Pierre Manent, a foremost authority in the field of political philosophy and
director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris,
explains: "In our system it is possible to meet most of the demands of
homosexuals, or of those who speak on their behalf. But not all. Or rather, only
one is impossible to meet. It is impossible for the body politic to 'recognize'
their 'lifestyle': our system does not 'recognize' any 'lifestyle.' That is why
it is liberal. But it 'recognizes' 'heterosexual marriage'? Of course, and for a
good reason: this marriage produces children, that is to say, citizens, and this
comes under public interest" ("Cours familier de philosophie politique,"
Gallimard, 2001, 324-5).
With regard to the protection of minority rights, it should be remembered that a
minority does not have rights solely because it is a minority. It is the members
of this minority who have rights, and these rights are either absolute or
conditional. An example of an absolute right is the right to life; an example of
a conditional right is the right to practice medicine, which is conditional to
having a medical diploma. The right to marriage, which is recognized by the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is also a conditional right. It is
reserved for persons who meet the conditions naturally required and associated
with this right, including sexual complementarity.
As the government prepares to redefine marriage by invoking the evolutionary
nature of the Canadian Constitution, we must also recall a fundamental principle
that is to govern the development of laws to ensure that they will be just and
thus deserve the support and respect of citizens.
Laws are established to ensure respect for the social order. But a social order
is valid only if it respects the order inscribed in human nature itself. When
laws contradict this natural order, they become unjust and are liable to provoke
division and dissension. The result is social disorder.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms aptly refers to the "supremacy of
God and the rule of law". This reference is in no way denominational. It is
written within the framework of the conventional tradition of a right that
establishes what is due to each human person because he or she is human. It
finds its roots in human nature and does not originate from the will of judges
and governments. It is natural law - and its components are more universal and
unchanging than the social and cultural realities that change with time.
The right to marriage as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(Article 16) is based on natural law and does not evolve with attitudes. The
evolution of positive law can be considered as progress for civilization only
when it conforms to natural law. A sound interpretation of the Charter demands
this reference to natural law that comes from its prelude.
Harmful Effects on Children
We are also most concerned by the foreseeable impact of a redefinition of
marriage on Canada's most vulnerable citizens
its children. We cannot dismiss their needs and rights by imagining that
tomorrow's society will not suffer from the repercussions of this legislation.
Before proceeding with such social re-engineering, we should consider the impact
that divorce has had on some generations of children.
Issuing from the union of a man and a woman, children need a father and a
mother; they have the right to know their biological parents and to be educated
by them. We are only too aware of the suffering of those who are deprived of
this possibility. Why then deliberately create other situations that are
contrary to the well-being of children who need the double figure of a man and a
woman, who represent for them the different, complementary roles that are
crucial for their growth process and the structuring of their personalities?
established to ensure respect for the social order. But a social order
is valid only if it respects the order inscribed in human nature itself.
When laws contradict this natural order, they become unjust and are
liable to provoke division and dissension. The result is social
The adoption of Bill C-38 would create two categories of
children: those who would have the right to be educated by their two biological
parents and those who would be voluntarily deprived of this right. Such
discrimination is neither just nor desirable. In a position statement dated 22
January 2004, entitled "Human Parenting: Is It Time for Change?", the American
College of Pediatricians (ACP) concluded that: "The research literature on
childrearing by homosexual parents is limited. The environment in which children
are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body
of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate,
potentially hazardous to children and dangerously irresponsible to change the
age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, neither by adoption, foster care,
or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available
science." Basing its comments on a report summarizing hundreds of studies
throughout the world, the Spanish Association of Pediatrics has recently
affirmed "a family nucleus with two fathers or two mothers is clearly dangerous
for the child" (www.preservemarriage.ca).
Imposing uniformity in the name of equality means pursuing the erosion of
marriage and the family by belittling the importance of the union of a woman and
a man, a wife and a husband, a mother and a father. Society must do everything
in its power to ensure that children have a father and a mother who live
together in a relationship marked by stability and love.
Furthermore, the educational impact of laws on attitudes is undeniable. If
Canadian law must henceforth teach that marriage is the union of two persons, a
majority of Canadians face the risk of a serious threat to their freedom of
conscience, religion and expression through the imposition of an "orthodoxy"
that is contrary to their values.
It is true that the amended version of Bill C-38, Article 3.1, affirms "For
greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit,
or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of
Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between
persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed
under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their
beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion
of all others based on that guaranteed freedom."
This section of Bill C-38 affects only federal legislation. Nothing has been
provided to ensure that this section is applied in all provinces given that
legislation dealing with social issues and education is under provincial
jurisdiction. The Charter currently protects freedom of conscience and religion;
however, in provinces that recognize the validity of same-sex marriage we are
already witnessing lawsuits against persons and groups who do not share this
vision. Must we now resign ourselves to being victims of discrimination for
believing in the historical definition of marriage and wishing to teach, educate
and preach according to our faith and conscience? Must a majority of parents
accept it as inevitable, that schools and the media will transmit a vision of
marriage contrary to their own?
Threat to Freedom of Conscience and Religion
Bill C-38 affirms that freedom of religion is protected and therefore those
licensed to perform marriages would not be obliged to do so if their convictions
are compromised. Not only will it be necessary to count on the willingness of
the provinces to assure this right, but it is clear from the debates on the
redefinition of marriage that the concept of religious freedom is misunderstood
by the majority of interveners.
Religious freedom is not limited to the freedom to perform or not perform
marriages between same-sex partners. Freedom of religion, which is intrinsically
linked to freedom of conscience and expression, not only concerns religious
authorities but all citizens, who must be able to express these freedoms
publicly in their daily lives.
conclusion, we maintain that it would be unjust and contrary to the
common good to redefine marriage as dictated in Bill C-38. Such a law
would change the essential nature of marriage and destroy the public
recognition that the State must grant, in the spirit of the Charter and
in respecting natural law, to the union of a man and a woman to the
exclusion of all others.
extremely distressing phenomenon has been noted in recent years. It has been
particularly well described by Professor R.M.T. Schmid that whoever indicates
disagreement with the idea of same-sex marriage is accused of homophobia: "Is
the introduction of homosexual unions ultimately to symbolize that there is no
right to freedom of conscience on the matter of homosexual acts and that
conscientious objectors are to be marginalized in public life?
"Already, the appeal to conscience in any matter pertaining to homosexuality
risks being dismissed as 'homophobia.' Understood as a pathological fear, this
disqualifies the position of opponents as an entirely irrational stance. Because
the condemnation of homosexual behavior objects to acts, not to persons, the
conclusion that any opposition to homosexual unions indicates lack of respect
and care for people is a blatant non sequitur.
"If the line of reasoning is that homosexuality is so central to the human
person that it is impossible to morally disapprove of homosexual acts and not
thereby discriminate against the person, then by the same token conscientious
beliefs central to the human person could not be contradicted without
discriminating against the person.
"The exhortation that 'religious belief must not lead to the discrimination of
homosexual persons by refusing them the right to marry' sets up a false problem.
Not all arguments made by religious believers can be reduced to their religious
beliefs. The contribution of religious believers to the public debate on
homosexual unions cannot be dismissed as inherently irrational and biased
without denying them equality as citizens.
"It cannot be allowed that in political discussion pathological irrationality,
bad motives or even hatred are freely ascribed to opponents of homosexual
unions. If in the name of truth, rational arguments can be rejected because they
accord with conscientious beliefs, and in the name of justice, conscientious
belief can be silenced, then freedom is not for all" (Ibid.).
These attempts to intimidate persons who do not share the State's vision of
marriage may well multiply after the adoption of Bill C-38. Once the State
imposes a new standard affirming that homosexual sexual behavior is a social
good, those who oppose it for religious motives or motives of conscience will be
considered as bigots, anti-gay and homophobes, and then risk prosecution.
Again, to quote Pierre Manent: "Precisely because our system is a system of
freedom, and in order for it to remain so, we have no right to demand that our
citizens approve our 'styles' or 'contents of life': it would be tyranny" (Ibid.
By claiming marriage, persons of the same sex are seeking social recognition.
But, we repeat, in this case social recognition depends on the service a citizen
renders to the State. Unlike same-sex couples, heterosexual couples naturally
and most often transmit life. In giving new citizens to society, they render an
essential social service to the State, which justifies a special status to their
By obtaining the right to marriage, same-sex partners would be asked to present
themselves socially in a way that is different from what they really are. This
would also affirm that they need this status to be deemed worthy of
consideration, which would run entirely counter to the objective of Bill C-38.
The State is not interested in recognizing or institutionalizing consensual
adult relationships founded on sexual orientation, sexual preferences, cultural
practices, religious convictions or personal preferences of its citizens. In
public interest, it must protect the institution of marriage and the family that
are the cornerstone of society and the best guarantee for its future.
In conclusion, we maintain that it would be unjust and contrary to the common
good to redefine marriage as dictated in Bill C-38. Such a law would change the
essential nature of marriage and destroy the public recognition that the State
must grant, in the spirit of the Charter and in respecting natural law, to the
union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.
In claiming marriage, persons of the same sex are seeking a social recognition
that if granted to them in this way, would be unjust since their union does not
fulfill the essential condition of sexual complementarity and openness to
natural procreation which is characteristic of the institution of marriage.
To find legal and social recognition above all else and to the detriment of the
common values of marriage and family in Canadian society, has already had
disastrous consequences and has endangered not only freedom of conscience and
religion, but also the quality of public and private education in the future.
The State must protect the primary right to freedom of religion not only for
members of the clergy but also for the population as a whole. It must ensure
that the rights and justice toward homosexuals and same-sex unions be respected,
but without relinquishing to cultural movements that threaten the fundamental
values of marriage and the family.
We are counting on you, Honorable Senators, who may vote in complete freedom of
conscience, and we appeal to you on behalf of the majority of Canadians: Save
the fundamental institution of marriage! Your parliamentary institution will
emerge more credible and faithful to the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms,
which will provide a more accurate interpretation than the one presented by this
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada
On behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
July 13, 2005
Senate chose to ignore the reasoned arguments of religious and
non-religious critics of Bill C-38, refusing as well to amend the bill
in such a way as to ensure the religious rights of Canadians. The Senate
passed Bill C-38 on July 20, 2005.
47 Senators voted in favour, 21 were opposed.