Martin won't force gay marriages on churches

Government to ask Supreme Court if civil union is a viable alternative


Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service

Published: Friday, December 19, 2003

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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Paul Martin says he would use the Constitution's notwithstanding clause if the Supreme Court rules that churches must perform gay marriages.

"Oh, yes I would," Martin said Thursday on CBC Radio when asked whether he would use the clause.

"I would look at it if it was a question of affirming a (religious) right," he said, explaining that it would be used only under extreme circumstances.

Martin's comments came after Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said he wants to expand his government's same-sex marriage case in the Supreme Court of Canada by asking whether it is constitutional to restrict gays and lesbians to registered civil unions instead of giving them full marriage rights.

Cotler, who personally supports gay marriage, said Thursday that broadening the case does not mean the Liberal government has changed its position, but that he wants the judges to "canvass the issues in the most comprehensive and fair-minded way."

Martin, a devout Roman Catholic, has said he supports gay rights legislation, but religious institutions should not be bound to it.

Cotler's predecessor, Martin Cauchon, asked the Supreme Court last summer for a declaration that a draft bill legalizing gay marriage is in keeping with the Charter of Rights.

But critics complained that he failed to ask the crucial question of whether it is constitutional to continue banning gay marriage.

"We're going to affirm our support for same-sex marriage, but we're going to offer possibly another question that will invite consideration of whether there is another option such as a civil union," Cotler told CBC-TV.

The Supreme Court has tentatively set aside next April 16 to hear arguments, and more than a dozen groups have asked the court if they can participate.

The Liberal government announced last summer it would legalize gay and lesbian marriage in light of court rulings in three provinces that declared that the federal prohibition violates the equality guarantees in the Charter of Rights.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Ontario and British Columbia.

The draft bill also asks the court whether it is constitutional to allow religious institutions the right to refuse to perform ceremonies.

In the reference, the Supreme Court will give a non-binding legal opinion that the government will use in crafting a bill that will be debated in Parliament.

©  CanWest News Service 2004