Gay campaigners are questioning a nationwide poll in Canada which shows that citizens believe marriage commissioners should be allowed to refuse same sex unions if it violates their religious beliefs.

The poll conducted by COMPAS Inc for the Institute for Canadian Values and National Post shows that a large majority of Canadians want Parliament to act to protect freedom of religion in the light of legislation redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.

But gay rights advocates question the way the poll was conducted. The survey depended on hypothetical questions that they say skewed the results.

“This poll is an exercise in misdirection,” said Laurie Arron, national coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

“Clergy have always been free to set their own rules for marriage, whether it’s refusing to marry divorced people or refusing to marry interfaith couples. The freedom not to marry same-sex couples is no different.”

According to the poll results, 64 percent of respondents to the survey, conducted October 18 – 27 said that Parliament should review existing legislation to ensure that freedom of religion is protected while 24 percent opposed such an initiative.

Support for a review was nominally higher among women (67 percent in favour vs. 21 percent opposed) while among Francophones, support stood at 59 percent with 25 percent opposed.

“Canadians of all backgrounds cherish freedom of religion,” said Joseph Ben-Ami, executive director and director of policy development for the institute.

“They are concerned with the impact that same-sex marriage legislation is having on religious freedom, and they – quite sensibly – want Parliament to act to protect it.”

The poll also found strong support (57 percent vs. 37 percent) for the right of marriage commissioners to not officiate at same-sex marriages, the right of teachers to express their opposition to same-sex marriage by, for instance, writing letters to their local newspapers (68 percent vs. 28 percent) and the right of business owners to decline business that promotes same-sex relationships in violation of their religious convictions (61 percent vs. 33 percent). “These examples are significant in that they represent cases where the Courts and human rights bodies have actually ruled against religious rights,” explained Mr Ben-Ami.

“In view of this, no-one can have confidence that the Judiciary alone will be able to protect religious freedom – that’s why Parliament must act.”

A free vote on reopening the debate on same sex marriage will be held later this month.

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