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Case For Legal Recognition

Christianity reinforced the criminal laws that penalized gay men for centuries, and which made legal and theological reform difficult. As we know, Lord Devlin and his allies lost the debate about criminality. In 1969 Canada agreed that it had no place in the bedrooms of the nation. Since that time, there has been a long arduous struggle to secure acceptance under the law for gays and lesbians.

Although there has been a range of views between and within denominations, many Christians have been prominent in opposing the movement for equality for gays and lesbians. Some of us remember Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children Campaign”, brought to Canada in the late 1970’s by Milton preacher Ken Campbell. During the debate on Bill 167, the Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto caused his priests to exhort parishioners to lobby their MPP’s to defeat the Bill, handing out postcards to that effect during the Mass. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a conservative Protestant group, has frequently intervened in Supreme Court cases dealing with lesbian and gay equality, always in support of continuing legal discrimination. At the extreme, there are those who advocate violence.

Even the Pope himself has been the victim of Christian homophobia! The Reverend Fred Phelps is known for tasteless picketing at gay funerals, and for his notorious website, If you visit this remarkable website, you will see that Phelps condemns the Catholic church as “evil” and a “fag church” because it permits homosexuals as members and even dares to ordain celibate homosexuals.

Despite the presence of some of the worst extremists in the Protestant denominations, given the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church and the conservative outlook of the current Pope, it should come as no surprise that the reform movement has been largely confined to Protestant churches. Protestant churches are based less on dogma and more on a tradition of individual conscience, of questioning of dogma, of the importance of Biblical authority and of “protest.” However, one of the most important advocates of reform was the late Professor John Boswell, a Catholic who clearly disagreed with the current teaching of the Vatican on this subject[6].

[6] See John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) and John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (New York: Random House, 1994).

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