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Chronology of Marriage and Equality Rights in the United Church

The Basis of Union (1925): ("The Manual") Article XX. Of Christian Service and the Final Triumph. " preserve the inviolability of marriage and the sanctity of the family..."


Toward a Christian Understanding of Sex, Love, Marriage: A First Report of the Commission on Christian Marriage and Divorce, Approved by the 19th General Council of The United Church of Canada


This report provided a statement on a Christian understanding of marriage and sex, stating: "Marriage is an intimate personal union to which a man and woman consent, consummated in sexual intercourse, and perfected in a life-long partnership of mutual love. Marriage is also a social institution recognized and regulated by the laws and customs which a society develops in order to safeguard its own continuity and welfare. A Christian marriage is one in which husband and wife have publicly covenanted together with God..." (p. 1).

This commission recommended that the church provide preparation for marriage and family responsibility by providing study courses on Christian marriage and sex education, pastoral training of ministers, and education for Christian family life and responsible parenthood. In addition, it made recommendations re sterility and artificial insemination, and single people and their needs (pp. 61-65).


Marriage Breakdown, Divorce, Remarriage: A Christian Understanding. The Second and Final Report of the Commission on Christian Marriage and Divorce, Approved by the 20th General Council of The United Church of Canada


This report reaffirmed the need for marriage preparation; addressed the issue of age of consent to marry; encouraged counsel for partners with marital problems; acknowledged that some marriages do fail and United Church ministers do solemnize marriages of divorced people; urged the government to appoint a royal commission on divorce; and urged the government to establish within the Department of National Health and Welfare a division of Marriage and Family Welfare. It recommended that the church provide pastoral care for divorced people and that ministers may officiate at marriages of divorced people (though no minister in the United Church is required to officiate at the remarriage of a divorced person against his or her own conscience). It also reaffirmed the church's commitment to strengthening our church's provision for marriage preparation, marriage guidance, and Christian family life education (pp. 110-18).


The Permanence of Christian Marriage


This resource was produced by The Committee on Theology and Faith in 1975. "The 26th General Council meeting in 1974 at Guelph affirmed the necessity for Christian marriage to be life-long in its intention and directed that in any service for Christian marriage a vow expressing life-long intention be included."


27th General Council


The United Church of Canada affirmed that the final responsibility for the significance of the marriage service and all matters related to the conduct of weddings rests with the minister and the local church.

The United Church of Canada recommended that United Church ministers and congregations encourage ecumenical cooperation wherever possible with regard to the preparation, conduct, and support of marriages.

In 1978 the Division of Mission in Canada approved the study statement entitled Marriage Today and established the task force that created In God's Image.


In God's Image...Male and Female: A Study on Human Sexuality


This study on human sexuality attempted to

  • provide ways to understand one's own sexual experience
  • reflect on it in the light of the gospel and of modern knowledge, and examine our own beliefs

It identified the following issues needing further study in the church: education in human sexuality, support in our sexual journey, working for social change, society and homosexuality, sexual orientation and civil rights, ordination, commissioning and declared homosexual people. Referred to the 30th General Council.


Gift, Dilemma, and Promise: A Report and Affirmations of Human Sexuality


This report was received by the 30th General Council. The report contained affirmations on sexuality and selfhood; marriage; intimacy; sexism, society, self; and sexual orientation. The United Church of Canada affirmed:

  • that marriage is a gift of God through which Christians make a covenant with each other and with God
  • that in marriage we offer each other the promise of lifelong companionship, the rich expression of human affections and sexuality, and nurture for the children
  • that marriage as an institution can under gird each relationship and provide stability for society
  • the value of marriage and that the church must work both to redeem and care for the institution and to support those entering into a covenant relationship with each other.

The United Church of Canada acknowledged that marriage can also be destructive, and that marriage as an institution is shaped by cultural attitudes that are patriarchal and oppressive.

Equality Rights

In 1984, The United Church of Canada affirmed our acceptance of all human beings as persons made in the image of God, regardless of their sexual orientation.


Living Together in Marriage: A Manual for Marriage-Education Leaders

This resource affirmed that marriage is one of God's gifts, part of God's intention for many human lives.


Membership, Ministry and Human Sexuality: A New Statement of The United Church of Canada by the 32nd General Council.

Living Together in Marriage: A Manual for Marriage-Education Leaders


The council reaffirmed the affirmations found in Gift, Dilemma, and Promise.

The council declared that all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, who profess faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to him, are welcome to be or become full members of the church.

The 32nd General Council affirmed that God's intention for all human relationships is that they be faithful, responsible, just, loving, health-giving, healing, and sustaining of community and self. The implication is that these standards apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

In 1988, the church affirmed that all persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of their sexual orientation, are eligible to be considered for ordered ministry.


34th General Council

Equality Rights

In 1992, the General Council directed that liturgical and pastoral resources for same-sex covenants be made available to congregations. This resulted in the resource Together in Faith: Inclusive Resources about Sexual Diversity for Study, Dialogue, Celebration, and Action (published 1995).


36th General Council

Equality Rights

In 1997, the 36th General Council passed a resolution requesting that United Church regional Conferences urge all teachers' unions and associations to provide in-service education on gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues in order to promote tolerance. To this end, in 2003 the United Church published Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Issues in Canada: Action Resources for United Church Congregations.


Equality Rights

In 1999, the United Church appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in support of Bill C-23, Modernization of Benefits and Obligations, as a tangible expression of the United Church's commitment to the equality of heterosexual and same-sex relationships.


37th General Council


In 2000 the 37th General Council of the United Church adopted the policy to affirm and work toward the civil recognition of same-sex partnerships. As a result, some United Church congregations began to record the services of same-sex couples in their marriage registers and to forward these registrations to provincial governments for licensing.

Celebrate God's Presence was produced, offering resources to celebrate marriage and life-long partnerships (mandated by the 36th General Council).

Equality Rights

In 2000, the 37th General Council affirmed that human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the marvellous diversity of creation.


38th General Council


Of Love and Justice: Toward the Civil Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage, a congregational guide for study and action, is a response to the resolutions passed at the 37th General Council, which called on the church to affirm lesbian and gay partnerships and to work for their civil recognition, and to recognize them in church documentation and services of blessing.

In February 2003, in a submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in response to the Department of Justice Discussion Paper Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Unions, The United Church of Canada suggested that the federal government adopt a legislative framework that provides the same civil recognition for heterosexual and homosexual couples.

In the fall of 2003, Passion and Freedom: A Resource for Ministers and Leaders Supporting the Lives of Couples will be produced. Passion and Freedom is a resource to support couples through the beginnings, middles, and endings of relationships. An accompanying couples' resource of the same name will be produced in the spring of 2004.

At the 38th General Council, The United Church of Canada resolved to call on the Government of Canada to recognize same-sex marriage in the marriage legislation.


Equality Rights

The Federal Civil Marriage Act, introduced as Bill C-38, and legalizing same-sex marriage, became law on July 20, 2005. Please see the Commentary regarding same-sex marriage from Jim Sinclair and Peter Short, Moderator, as a way of understanding the United Church response to this decision of the Government of Canada. Policy regarding the celebration of marriage is determined by the session of the congregation (or its equivalent). Many congregations have been through, or are going through, processes of discernment regarding the practice of celebrating same-sex marriage.


39th General Council


In 2006, the 39th General Council passed a motion directing the General Secretary to write to all presbyteries/districts, sessions (or equivalent), and ministry personnel encouraging ongoing study of Passion and Freedom and Of Love and Justice and other study resources concerning marriage; encouraging continued development of marriage policies; encouraging ministry personnel and sessions (or equivalent) to strengthen their covenantal relationships as they struggle together where there is disagreement about marriage policy; encouraging that where there is difference of opinion between the session (or equivalent) and the minister around the performing of same-sex marriages, that they make every effort to make other suitable arrangements; and encouraging, among congregations and within presbyteries, the sharing of stories and resources related to the development of marriage policies.

The Council also passed a motion directing the General Secretary to determine ways in which same-sex marriage could be provided in all Conferences of The United Church of Canada in order to ensure accessibility to marriage to all members and adherents.

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