OTTAWA — It was a lonely time here in the capital for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in the early days of the gay marriage debate in 2003.
Of the scattered conservative Christian groups opposed to extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, it was the only one with a full-time office in Ottawa to lobby politicians. “We were the only ones here,” said Janet Epp Buckingham, who was the group’s public policy director then.
But that was before the legislation passed in 2005 allowing gay marriage in Canada. And before the election early this year of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative and an evangelical Christian who frequently caps his speeches with “God bless Canada.”
Today across the country, the gay marriage issue and Mr. Harper’s election have galvanized conservative Christian groups to enter politics like never before.
Before now, the Christian right was not a political force in this mostly secular, liberal country. But it is coalescing with new clout and credibility, similar to the evangelical Christian movement in the United States in the 1980s, though not nearly on the same scale.
Today, half a dozen organizations like the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada work full time in Ottawa, four of which opened offices in the past year, all seeking to reverse the law allowing gay marriage.
These Christian conservatives have been instilled with a sense of urgency in the expectation that Mr. Harper will follow through on a campaign promise, as early as the first week of December, to hold a vote in Parliament on whether to revisit the gay marriage debate.
“With the legalization of gay marriage, faith has been violated and we’ve been forced to respond,” said Charles McVety, a leader of several evangelical Christian organizations that oppose gay marriage and president of the Canada Christian College in Toronto.
“Traditionally people of faith in Canada have not been politically active,” he said. “But now we’re finally seeing organizations that are professionalizing what was a very amateur political movement.”
Mr. McVety, who recites from memory the decision of an Ontario judge in 2003 that paved the way for gay marriages, has organized dozens of rallies attracting altogether some 200,000 supporters.....................................
If Mr. Harper appears to be too aggressive in pushing to revisit gay marriage he also risks losing votes in Quebec, where his pro-Israel stance and an environmental plan that does not meet Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitments have already hurt his support in a province that is critical to his chances of securing a majority in the next election.
“Harper needs to show he is not the right-wing evangelical’s rump if he wants to grow into a majority government,” said Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who studies the politics of evangelical Christians in Canada.
Mr. Harper’s government has not introduced an avalanche of socially conservative measures, but has instead shifted subtly to the right, one policy at a time.
In addition to derailing Liberal measures to loosen marijuana and prostitution laws, Mr. Harper has introduced tougher crime legislation, bolstered the military with new money and equipment, lowered the national sales tax and plans to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14.
But the Christian right wants more and realizes a lot is at stake in the marriage question.
In a country where church attendance has dropped to about 20 percent of the population from about 60 percent since the 1940s, the Christian right hopes the polling numbers convince politicians there are still enough votes to be won by championing socially conservative issues.