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United Church of Canada  
 
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At the General Council, the expectation was that the recommendations of the task force would be decisively rejected. However, that did not happen.

Perhaps the visceral homophobia of Christian fundamentalists from the United States who had crashed the meeting and proceeded to spew hatred toward sexual minorities turned the tide in favor of the recommendations. Or it may be that the testimony of openly gay members of the Church swayed the meeting.

Sponsor Message.

In any case, after heated debate, the Council voted by a 3 to 1 majority "That all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, who profess Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, are welcome to be or become full members of the Church" and that "All members of the Church are eligible to be considered for the Ordered Ministry."

Another resolution urged the Church to oppose discrimination against homosexuals both within the Church and without.

These historic recommendations set the United Church on the road toward welcoming gay men and lesbians fully into the Church and advocating on their behalf to the wider society.

The culmination of the Church's embrace of homosexuals came in 2000, when the General Council affirmed that human sexual orientations--homosexual no less than heterosexual--are "a gift of God and part of the marvelous diversity of creation."

Same-Sex Marriage

In 1992, the General Council of the United Church of Canada directed that liturgical and pastoral resources for same-sex covenants be made available to congregations. Although the Council did not mandate the performance of same-sex covenants or blessings for same-sex partners, it encouraged congregations to offer them.

In 1999, representatives of the Church appeared before Parliament's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to testify in favor of a bill extending pension rights to surviving partners in same-sex relationships on the same basis as those in heterosexual relationships.

In 2000, the General Council resolved to work toward the civil recognition of same-sex partnerships. In response, many congregations began to record the commitment ceremonies of same-sex couples in their marriage registers and to forward these registrations to provincial governments for licensing.

In 2003, the United Church published a congregational guide entitled Of Love and Justice: Toward the Civil Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage. Later that year, after courts in Ontario and British Columbia had ruled in favor of the rights of gay couples to marriage, the General Council called upon the Government of Canada to recognize same-sex marriage throughout the country.

In the subsequent struggle for a national bill recognizing same-sex marriage in Canada, the United Church played a pivotal role. Not only did representatives of the Church testify on behalf of marriage equality, but they also actively lobbied in favor of Bill C-38, the authorizing legislation. This lobbying effort was crucial, for it exploded the myth that all Christians--and all Christian denominations--were opposed to same-sex marriage.

On behalf of the General Council, Jackie Harper and Choice Okoro wrote Prime Minister Martin that "The United Church unequivocally supports the rights of same-sex couples to have access to civil marriage; it also unequivocally supports the rights of communities of faith to decline to perform such marriages."

The Church's Moderator, Rev. Dr. Peter Short, not only editorialized in national newspapers in favor of same-sex marriage, but also wrote members of Parliament that the Church's decision to support same-sex marriage "has been reached not by abandoning Christian faith, tradition, and values, but by implementing them. I write to you in the hope that you will resist the assumption that anyone who speaks from Christian faith, tradition, and values must be against equal marriage."

Dr. Short went on to say that "For me, Christian faith, tradition, and values contribute to our hope for that day when earth once more is fair and her children one, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people--all her children." He concluded by reiterating that "The General Council of The United Church of Canada believes that equal marriage is a step on the path to justice, peace, and the common good."

The United Church's eloquent testimony in favor of equal marriage rights contrasted vividly with the sometimes disrespectful comments and specious reasoning of representatives of other evangelical denominations and of the Roman Catholic Church in opposition to same-sex marriage. The positive response of the Church also contrasted with the official silence on this issue by the Anglican Church of Canada.

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