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Religion et sexualité

Religion is frequently seen as the primary source of constraint when it comes to sexuality and expressions of sexuality, both public and in private. The regulation of sexuality in Canada, similar to its regulation elsewhere, has been imbued with religious ideologies – predominantly Christian – since the earliest settlers from Europe in the 17th century. Religion and sexuality as connected to First Nations beliefs, practices and traditions is diverse and has also been heavily influenced by European religious impositions. In response to grassroots feminist activisms and feminist movements in the 1960s and 1970s, notions about gendered and sexual stereotypes have been loudly challenged and subsequently considered with more nuance. Recognition of women as persons (1929), the right to vote (1916-1940, though for First Nations women it wasn’t until 1960), and wartime labour needs during both the First and Second World Wars that saw women in the workforce in new and unexpected ways, spearheaded movements that actively challenged policies, ideologies and restrictions placed on women based on their presumed inabilities connected to their gender.

Historical Overview
Lesbian and gay rights and recognition found a home under the women’s movements in the 1970’s, though both feminist and early lesbian and gay movements have been criticized for their own lack of inclusivity – towards women of colour, based on class and income, and for privileging the rights of a select few from these groups over the many at additional disadvantage. Although both feminist and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex (LGBTQI+) movements are not monolithic, the mission to challenge negative and discriminatory treatment and policies based on gender and sexuality has been a foundation of both movements. Pay inequality, the inability of same-sex couples to marry or adopt children, restrictions regarding access to abortion and discriminatory hiring policies are just some of the systemic disadvantages that have been imposed on women and LGBTQI+ individuals, rooted in ideological presumptions about normative gender and normative sexuality. In the last decades of the 20th century, activists began inserting and insisting on consideration of intersectional disadvantages ; individuals who experience these systemic forms of discrimination across more than one minority identity. Within intersectional studies, the spaces for individuals who identify across religious, gendered and sexually diverse identities have not yet received a great deal of attention, though the voices across these spaces have increased.

Beginning in the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution in Québec was a time which saw intense challenges to the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in state and social policy ; state policies regarding abortion, education, and the treatment of minorities were directly challenged and overturned. Similarly, in other parts of Canada, the primacy that had been accorded to Christian ideologies within education and public policy was being challenged in public and legal spaces. The movement for marriage equality which began in the 1970s often is equated with a movement to remove overt forms of religiosity from public policy. Although this ignores engagement by religious groups in support of marriage equality, the push to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples was a challenge to what many religious groups felt had been religiously preordained definition, intended for procreation and based on gender ‘complementarity.’ Marriage equality in Canada was first legalized via civil unions at the provincial level in 2003, finally achieving federal recognition in 2005. In addition to marriage equality, adoption rights, family benefits and the right to be protected from discrimination are all areas in which rights based on sexual orientation have been challenged and have been successful. The reality is that these rights predominantly benefit particular subsets of the LGBTQI+ communities ; i.e. monogamous, lesbian and gay couples who wish to get married and/or wish to have children, and do not encompass all challenges faced by members of the LGBTQI+ communities.

Contemporary Overview
Today in Canada, shifting statistics regarding Canada’s religious makeup are the subject of much recent research about both religious identity and how it is understood and what has transpired to cause these shifts in Canadian religiosity. In the most recently released statistics (National Household Survey 2011) regarding religious identity, Canadians selected Christianity as the majority religion, which is not surprising given Canada’s migration patterns, however the figure of 67.3% for 2011 is down from the 2011 census which held 77% of Canadians identifying as Christian. The most noticeable surge in the changing demographics was in the nonreligious category, with 23.9% of census participants identifying as nonreligious up from 16.5% in 2006. While there are of course cautionary notes about the numbers and their meaning, there is clearly something changing within the Canadian religious landscape regarding self-selected affiliation and how contemporary Canada is identifying regarding the religion question. Unfortunately, the census does not provide the same set of figures for reporting sexuality or sexually diverse relationships – both because of census design (the census does not ask such detailed questions) and also as a result of a flaw in the census (assumption in the matrix which indicates two people of the same-sex living together are in a relationship).

Treatment of the sexually diverse in Canada has gone from restrictive to discriminatory, both at the hands of public policy and religious institutions. Negative attitudes towards sexual minorities were publicly confronted in the face of grassroots activism during the sexual revolution in the mid-20th century. Early activism regarding sexual diversity also found support in the marriage of Chris Vogel and Richard north in 1974, a wedding performed by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg – which to date remains unrecognized by the province of Manitoba (and subsequently by Canada).

Pierre Trudeau is famous for having declared in 1967 that the state has no business in the bedrooms of our nation when he, as Prime Minister, introduced an Omnibus bill in the House of Commons dramatically altering the Criminal Code of Canada, specifically the decriminalization of ‘homosexual acts performed in private.’ The bill also introduced revisions to abortion law, making it legal for women to get an abortion if a committee of three doctors felt the pregnancy would pose mental, emotional or physical harm to the mother. Trudeau’s own religious identity, as a devout Catholic, was challenged in the wake of the bill ; current Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau has since referenced his father’s religious identity when arguing in support of abortion rights, declaring that it was the job of a leader to stand up for people’s rights, regardless of religious teachings. It was only in 2016 that Prince Edward Island (PEI) agreed to provide abortion services in the province, until such time women were directed to Halifax, Nova Scotia or Moncton, New Brunswick for services (and currently are still directed as such, until the new policy and services are in place). The refusal to perform abortions in PEI has been influenced by pro-life groups and politicians, including PEI Right to Life. Although Canada is frequently hailed as a leader in human rights, and notably the Pride Flag was raised at Parliament Hill for the first time in 2016, the mechanisms of regulation and constraint of sexuality, access to sexual health services, and the lack of recognition of sexually diverse identities are persistent both on the ground and in recent policy and legislation.

While the involvement of particular religious groups and ideologies are present, both in history and in contemporary debates, the picture of religion and sexuality in Canada is much more complex. Restrictions imposed on access to services and sexual minorities are not simply relegated to religious restrictions. Shifting perceptions about both religious identity and sexual diversity make the picture of the relationship between the two categories ever more nuanced.

D 7 décembre 2017    AHeather Shipley

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