Friday, June 20, 2003
For Immediate Release
Toronto: In a statement released today, The United Church of Canada has commended the Prime Minister and the Liberal Cabinet on the announcement this week that the Federal Government will soon draft legislation that will legally recognize same-sex civil marriages.
"The responsible leadership and courage that the Chretien government has demonstrated in making this announcement, is most encouraging," comments the Moderator, the Right Rev. Dr. Marion Pardy.
The United Church has long supported the civil recognition of same- sex partnerships. In 2000, the 37th General Council affirmed that human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the marvellous diversity of creation. The Council further resolved to advocate for the civil recognition of same-sex partnerships.
In a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in February 2003, the United Church recommended that the federal government adopt a legislative framework that provides the same civil recognition for heterosexual and homosexual couples.
"The federal government, in proposing this approach to same-sex unions, has essentially adopted a position that mirrors that of The United Church of Canada," explains Choice Okoro, Program Officer for Human Rights. "We rejoice in anticipation of Parliament finally adopting legislation that will recognize the fundamental right of gay and lesbian couples to be legally married."
The Rev. Jackie Harper, Program Officer for Family Ministries, explains that although the United Church does not consider marriage a sacrament, "It does place an extremely high value on the seriousness of vows taken before God and in the presence of witnesses."
Harper adds that from the United Church's point of view, "Expanding the definition of marriage to include gay and lesbian couples, doesn't denigrate or diminish the traditional institution of heterosexual marriage, but rather enhances it."
"In 1988, the 32nd General Council affirmed that God's intention for all human relationships is that they be faithful, responsible, just, loving, health giving, healing, and sustaining of community and self," explains Harper. "The implication is that these standards apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples."
Harper adds that the United Church has also found that many of the alleged benchmarks for confining marriage to opposite-sex couples do not, in fact, bar same-sex couples. She explains, for instance, that procreation can no longer be cited as a defining dynamic of marriage in Western society and that extending the rights and obligations of marriage to same-sex couples will in no way undermine society's understanding of family.
"The United Church seeks to support the diversity of families who uphold a secure environment for nurture, growth, and development and that will contribute to the spiritual, social, psychological, sexual, physical, and economic wholeness of the members," explains Harper. "It is the experience of the United Church that non- traditional family forms equally advance these family values."
Harper also comments that including same-sex couples within the definition of marriage will not threaten the religious freedom of those who understand marriage to be an opposite-sex institution only. She is also not concerned that the proposed legislation will potentially force some clergy to compromise their faith and marry a same-sex couple.
"Nothing will change," says Harper. "In Canada clergy are not required to marry couples when it would be contrary to the faith community's religious beliefs."
Harper acknowledges that while some people within the United Church will find the concept of same-sex marriage a challenge to their understanding of the Bible, she says it is important for people of faith to explore scripture within the overarching theme of "a God who seeks people to live in loving, just relationships, and who longs for all God's people to know life in all its fullness" (John 10:10b).
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