Banner Summer for Gay Rights (August 2003)

June and July were banner months for the advancement of gay rights in North America. In a sweeping 6-3 decision on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws banning consensual sex between same-sex adults.

“The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. “The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”

A fierce dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, read from the bench by Scalia, called the decision evidence that the court “has taken sides in the culture war.” Scalia, a conservative Roman Catholic, wrote that the court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.”

Senate majority leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-TN, said after the decision he supports a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the so-called “Defense of Marriage” act.

The U.S. victory followed a ruling by a British Columbia court that B.C. gays and lesbians have an immediate right to marry.

A landmark 3-judge panel in the province of Ontario ordered Parliament to broaden its definition of marriage to include gay men and women. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien pledged in June to make gay and lesbian marriage the law of the land.
Courts in three provinces have now ruled that laws against gay marriages violate the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ontario and British Columbia have fully legalized gay marriage. Quebec has approved “civil unions.”

A coalition of church groups, including Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant and Muslim, announced in July they would try to challenge provincial court rulings to the Supreme Court. The Catholic Church has spearheaded the anti-gay crusade. The Vatican announced a worldwide campaign against gay marriage on July 28.

Canada has become the third nation in the world to sanction gay and lesbian marriage, joining the Netherlands and Belgium.

Freedom From Religion Foundation