In 2003, the chief appellate court of the province of Ontario unanimously ruled that the common law definition of marriage in force in Canada (“one man and one woman”) was unconstitutional, as it violated the equality guarantees of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (an amendment to the Canadian constitution, somewhat analogous to the U.S. Bill of Rights, but passed only in 1982). The Ontario decision followed similar provincial court decisions in British Columbia and Quebec. While the British Columbia and Quebec decisions struck down the old law, a standard practice in findings of unconstitutionality, the Ontario court went further: it decreed that Ontario’s marriage laws must be immediately rewritten to include homosexual couples. With uncharacteristic alacrity, Toronto City Hall began issuing same-sex marriage licenses that very afternoon: five hours elapsed between the court’s decision and the first gay wedding at City Hall, and Ontario instantly became a magnet for gay couples seeking to “marry.” The decision made international headlines as a major victory for gay activists. But that was only the beginning. The subsequent federal government response and ensuing public debate revealed that religious liberty itself is under attack in Canada. Indeed, the fracas over gay marriage has underscored that a totalitarian impulse has infected the Canadian body politic. “Totalitarian” is, admittedly, a hard word, but I believe it is required in this instance. In response to the Ontario ruling, the federal government of then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (supported by his successor, Paul Martin) decided not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Instead it introduced legislation that would amend the definition of marriage in line with the court directive, with a clause that would specifically exempt clergy from having to solemnize gay unions. Having chosen thus to embrace gay marriage, the federal government then referred the proposed law to the Supreme Court. (Canadian law allows the federal government to ask the Supreme Court for its opinion on proposed legislation.) The government specifically asked the Court whether the proposed clergy exemption was compatible with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.In an age where the term tolerance is floated around as being virtually the one and only moral that all must follow, we are now beginning to see the consequences of the misinterpretation of the term. If those who are deemed, by the state, as being intolerant are not tolerated, then we have moved to the condition of being intolerant of those who are intolerant. De Souza continues,
When religious liberty is lost, democracy—even if it maintains the structures and procedures of the democratic state—is lost. So the stakes are very high. That is why John Paul has stressed throughout the twenty-five years of his pontificate that religious liberty is the first liberty. Religious liberty means that there are areas where the state may not go. It means that the state may not coerce consciences. A democracy that loses its respect for religious liberty has lost its respect for limited government. Such a democracy, infected by the totalitarian impulse, may continue to wear the guise of democracy while heading in the opposite direction.A common secular complaint in the many culture wars currently underway is that religion is attempting to impose its views not only on the general public, but on the state as well. Yet, with the increasing encroachment of the state into the realm of religion, it seems that the shoe is on the other foot.