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Same-sex marriage opponent delivers BC throne speech prayer

But pastor Ken Clarke says he has no problem with civil unions

A gay NDP member of BC’s legislature is concerned that a minister from a church openly opposing same-sex marriage was chosen to deliver the prayer for the Feb 12 Throne Speech.

Vancouver-Burrard MLA Spencer Herbert says the role should have gone to someone who believes in the equality of same-sex marriage.

Pastor Ken Clarke of the Oliver and Osoyoos congregations of the Congregational Church of Canada confirms that he favours the traditional definition of marriage.

“I believe the Scripture teaches marriage is between one man and one woman,” Clarke says.

But, the pastor adds, he has no problem at all with civil unions for same-sex couples, as well as with the benefits that flow from those unions.

“If the government will allow benefits to people who are cohabitating, I have no problem with that,” the pastor says.

The Congregational Church of Canada’s national pastor, David Schrader, is a signatory to a Nov 6, 2007 letter which says “marriage is by nature heterosexual.”

It says redefining marriage as between two persons makes marriage “simply a euphemism for a committed relationship between two consenting adults.”

“Such an understanding diminishes both the sacred and civil dimensions of marriage and fails to promote the common good of society,” it says.

Clarke accepts people will disagree on the issue.

“Let’s agree to disagree,” he says. “It’s inappropriate to make an issue of it.”

Clarke says his prayer in the legislature asked for the diversity of BC to be recognized. He says that includes all people.

“We need to recognize the common values we share,” he says. “We need to look at what unites us, not what divides us.”

Herbert says perhaps agreeing to disagree is the best policy.

“The fact he agrees with civil unions, I’m glad he accepts that,” Herbert says. “It’s still not equal marriage.

“I would be happier if we had somebody leading the prayers who believes in the equality of same-sex marriage.”

A spokesperson for Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell’s office says it’s the Speaker’s Office that’s responsible for selecting the clergy member who delivers the prayer.

A spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office says the selection rotates between denominations and promised to look into Clarke’s selection.

Canada’s Parliament extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2005.

According to the Angus Reid Global Monitor website, same-sex marriage is now legal in Canada, Spain, Norway the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa.

In the Throne Speech, Lt-Gov Steven Point noted the 2007 death of lesbian author Jane Rule, praising her as an “exemplary citizen.”

Rule and Helen Sonthoff lived together for many years until Sonthoff’s death in 2000.

Rule surprised some in the gay community by declaring herself against gay marriage.

“To be forced back into the heterosexual cage of coupledom is not a step forward but a step back into state-imposed definitions of relationship,” she told The Globe and Mail in 2007. “With all that we have learned, we should be helping our heterosexual brothers and sisters out of their state-defined prisons, not volunteering to join them there.”