Ottawa (CNSNews.com) - Evangelical Christians in Canada will not affirm the newly legalized definition of marriage to include same-sex unions, despite a bill signed into law Wednesday giving homosexual and lesbian couples the same civil marriage rights as those enjoyed by heterosexuals.
"The unique, distinct nature of heterosexual marriage is no longer recognized in our law and public policy, but we will continue to promote and teach the biblical understanding of marriage in our families and churches," Evangelical Fellowship of Canada President Bruce Clemenger said.
"Evangelical pastors and congregations will continue to celebrate and promote marriage as the exclusive and enduring union of one man and one woman," he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin signed the bill into law, without fanfare. McLachlin was standing in for Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, who is recovering from heart surgery.
The move came less than 24 hours after the Canadian Senate overwhelmingly rejected a last-minute attempt to delay the legislation.
The Conservative Party attempted to push through an amendment that would have returned the bill to the House of Commons for approval of new wording. The House is not scheduled to return from its summer break until September 26.
The bid failed, and just before midnight Tuesday the Senate, dominated by members of the governing Liberal Party, voted 47-21 in favor of the original bill.
Canada is the fourth country -- after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain -- to legalize same-sex "marriages."
Even before the legislation was passed at the federal level, most Canadian provinces and territories had already agreed to permit them.
Courts in many jurisdictions had ruled that the conventional definition of marriage as "a union between a man and a woman" violated Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The new federal law applies across the country, forcing the provinces of Alberta and Prince Edward Island and the territories of Nunavut and Northwest Territories to come into line with the rest of Canada.
Following the Senate vote, city officials in Calgary, Alberta's largest city, reported receiving bookings for ceremonies to be held on Thursday.
In other reaction, Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain, an outspoken critic of the bill, complained the legislation was driven by judges and not by elected politicians.
"If we don't stop this, I know what the next steps are -- euthanasia, decriminalization of marijuana."
One of the bills due to come before lawmakers in the fall is indeed a government move to de-criminalize possession of "small amounts" of marijuana.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper was not available for comment Wednesday night, but he has already pledged to make repeal of same-sex marriage the centerpiece of his next election campaign.
Recent Canadian polls have shown that while the majority of respondents (around 60 percent) oppose same-sex "marriage," 55 percent also do not want to re-visit the legislation.
This appears to be the opinion too of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who had threatened to use a constitutional maneuver to prevent Alberta from having to comply with the new federal law.
He has now reluctantly backed down. "We will proceed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, much to our chagrin, following proclamation of the federal Civil Marriage Act," Klein said at a news conference.
The usually staid Senate -- established as "the chamber of sober second thought" -- was entertained Tuesday night by a solo dance in the chamber by government Senator Nancy Roth, an outspoken supporter of the legislation.
"There are some reasons to dance tonight and the whole country should be dancing," she said.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, responsible for pushing the legislation through parliament, said the new law ensured that religious freedom would be respected while granting same-sex couples the same civil rights as heterosexuals.
He said the law "protects the rights of minorities but does not take away the rights of anyone else, be they religious communities or opposite-sex couples."
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's law and public policy director, Janet Epp Buckingham, acknowledged that amendments to the bill did "provide some measure of protection for religious freedom," but said since marriage was primarily a religious institution with civil and social consequences, it was inevitable conflicts would arise.
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