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The Vatican released guidelines for bishops and Roman Catholic politicians regarding same-sex marriages on Thursday, warning lawmakers that they must clearly express their opposition to the practice.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has already indicated that he will not do so.

"When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it," read a portion of the 12-pages of guidelines released by the Vatican.

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The 12-page set of guidelines, approved by Pope John Paul II on Thursday, warns Catholic politicians that it is immoral to support same-sex unions. It says that there are no grounds to consider homosexual marriages to be "even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family" and that homosexual acts are unnatural.

The statement comes at a time when Mr. Chrétien's Liberals are poised to pass new federal legislation that would provide a new definition of marriage, replacing the common-law notion of a union between a man and a woman. Earlier this month, they sent a draft of the proposed bill to the Supreme Court for comment.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Chrétien said the Prime Minister feels responsibility more toward the Canadian public than toward his religion. He, along with Liberal leadership candidates Paul Martin and Sheila Copps, is Roman Catholic.

"First of all, we all know Mr. Chrétien is a Roman Catholic. He obviously has respect for the views of the Church," Thoren Hudyma told globeandmail.com Thursday.

She said, however, that as Prime Minister of Canada, he also has the moral responsibility to protect the equality of Canadians. "He's said there needs to be a separation between the church and state."

Ms. Hudyma also pointed out that the vote on the legislation will be a free vote in the House of Commons, meaning MPs who vote against the government will not be punished.

"MPs can vote however they want on this."

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She said it is also important to note that there is a clause in the legislation that allows any churches to bow out of performing same-sex marriages if they are opposed.

Mr. Martin, who is poised to become the next prime minister after the November Liberal leadership election, also said this week it is "an issue which is giving everyone great pause for thought," but as an MP he must "take in a wider perspective" than his faith.

Mr. Chrétien has already been criticized for his position on the Vatican's guidelines by at least one religious leader in Canada.

Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary warned Wednesday that Mr. Chrétien could be doomed to burn in hell if he allows same-sex legislation to become legal in Canada.

But on Thursday, Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, who has performed several gay marriages, said the Vatican's move "only serves to inflame discrimination and add to the sad and sorry language used by other fundamentalist churches of the religious right."

Across the border, U.S. President George W. Bush said Wednesday that he would look for ways to prevent homosexual marriage and ensure that it remains a traditional union.

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He said legal protections of marriage should apply only to the union of a man and a woman. Mr. Bush said U.S. government lawyers are exploring measures to legally define marriage in that way.

"I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "I think we ought to codify that one way or the other."

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