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Same-sex marriage bill reaches pulpit in Canada

Beth Duff-Brown Associated Press

TORONTO – As gay-rights activists head to Ottawa for the final stage in their long battle to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, Roman Catholic clergy are crossing the line that separates church and state to demand that legislators defeat the proposition.

They have pledged to bring the debate to their pulpits today and have called on Prime Minister Paul Martin to consider the moral consequences of allowing homosexual unions nationwide. Gays and lesbians can already marry in seven provinces and one territory, including Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Across the globe in China on a trade mission, Martin said he would stake his leadership on defending the right of gay couples to wed under Canada’s Charter of Rights, the country’s 1982 counterpart to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The debate is being closely watched south of the border, as gay marriage is opposed by a majority of Americans, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken in November, shortly after constitutional amendments in 11 states to ban same-sex marriage were approved.

Canada’s constitution, like America’s, separates the powers of church and state, though it says that Canada is founded “under the supremacy of God.”

The battle begins in earnest on Jan. 31, when the House of Commons reconvenes and will consider a bill put forward by Martin’s government. Supporters and opponents alike say the bill’s chances are still too close to call.

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in early December that gay marriage was constitutional, in a landmark opinion that allows the federal government to call on Parliament to legalize gay and lesbian unions nationwide.

Calgary Bishop Frederick Henry said in a pastoral letter to his diocese that the church has a duty to protect the fabric of society, even while that society is governed by law.

“Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good,” Henry wrote.

But Alex Munter, a gay rights activist, said he believes the bill will become law this year.

“The law that protects religious freedom is the same law that protects lesbians and gays from discrimination – the Charter of Rights and Freedom. You can’t switch it on and off,” said Munter, national coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

“If it’s OK to suspend the Charter of Rights and Freedom and say it does not apply to gays and lesbian people, who’s next?” he said.

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