House of Commons Hansard #240 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was marriage.

Topics

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5:55 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, the member for Crowfoot makes the point very well. We all support appropriate judicial review where the courts narrowly use their appropriate constitutional authority to interpret and define the laws. But for the courts to invent rights in the charter which are not explicit, which were not enshrined in it by the framers in 1982 is illegitimate in our view. That is why we must speak, to make it clear and plain to the courts that no jurisprudence can change the common law understanding of marriage. This parliament will take whatever action is necessary to uphold marriage contra any decision by the courts.

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6 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, I do not hesitate in supporting your calling the House to order at such a solemn moment, not just because I am rising to speak, but also because I believe the matter raised by the Reform Party is an important one.

I agree with the Reform Party that we need to discuss these matters. I am not of course in agreement with the position proposed. We need to discuss these matters because marriage is not a reality of divine right. It is not something that exists in itself, but something set out in legislation, and therefore something important for us to discuss.

Since I have about 20 minutes, I will take the time to read the wording of the motion in order to clearly set today's debate in context. The Reform Party motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain—

We can see the imperative nature of this motion.

—the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

In fact, some people have asked whether the wording “all necessary steps” means going so far as to use the notwithstanding clause. The question can be asked, and I think that members of the Reform Party will have to answer it.

I do not believe that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. I am among those who believe—and I will give my reasons later—that we should consider opening up the institution of marriage because marriage is not a divine right. It is an institution that required lawmakers to step in, and that is why conventional marriage as we know it is a prerogative of this parliament. The solemnization of marriage is a prerogative of various legislatures, but the definition of marriage has required that lawmakers step in, or we would not be looking at a motion such as this.

If marriage were limited strictly to canonical law, it would not concern us as parliamentarians. But canonical law is not the issue here.

I know that throughout their history, our Reform Party colleagues have made a number of attempts, some of them more adroit than others, to limit or refuse to recognize the right of two men or two women to form a conjugal union. I say again that I believe strongly that two men or two women can form conjugal unions and that lawmakers must recognize this reality, much as the supreme court has done in its recent decisions.

Before exploring this topic any further, I want to ask to what the motion is referring when it mentions various court decisions. Since 1992 a number of decisions both of administrative tribunals and of superior courts, such as the Ontario Court of Appeal and the supreme court, have progressively recognized and established case law and have handed down decisions recognizing same sex couples.

I will give a bit of background here. I know that I have the House's full attention and I am delighted. In 1992, when Kim Campbell was the minister of justice—I do not want to dredge up bad memories in the House—a decision was handed down by the Ontario Court of Appeal. This decision was the start of abundant jurisprudence.

In 1992, in the Haig case, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the Canadian human rights legislation saying that it was unconstitutional because it did not recognize sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds of discrimination. The government amended the law and we are grateful to it for doing so. This was at the time the current Minister of Health was the minister of justice.

Following the Haig decision, there was increasing recognition in legal annals that continued to grow in strength. Real case law was therefore born giving recognition to the fact that there could be common law conjugal unions between two men and two women, that is, partners of the same sex.

There was the decision in Haig. Recently there was the decision in Rosenberg where once again the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned certain provisions of the Income Tax Act saying that they were not compatible with section 15 of the Canadian charter of human rights by not according same sex partners survivor benefits.

Treasury Board amended this legislation. We would have preferred an omnibus bill. I have been tirelessly proposing year after year since 1994 in private member's bills that parliament acknowledge same sex spouses and permit passage of a single piece of legislation amending all existing laws. There are some 70 laws. All heterosexual definitions according benefits and requirements would include a homosexual definition of spouses.

I do not despair because increasingly persistent rumours—and I ask the parliamentary secretary to nod if she believes these rumours have some basis—are intimating that in October the government will table, in an unprecedented act of generosity, a bill recognizing same sex spouses. I can tell him in advance that he can count on my support and, more widely, that of the Bloc Quebecois, I believe.

When addressing these issues, we are speaking of the recognition of spouses of the same sex. That is what the Reform Party members are against. They have in fact introduced a motion against the Rosenberg decision.

Canadians, Quebecers and all those who support human rights must know that the Reform Party does not recognize that two women or two men can love each other and be protected by the legislator. That is the starting point of a debate such as the one we are having here today.

Since they do not acknowledge the existence of such a reality, hon. members will realize that anything even remotely connected to this is also disapproved of by the Reform Party.

It is their right as parliamentarians to discuss these matters and to hold that position but, in my opinion, their position is archaic and dated. It is rooted in another century. Canadians and Quebecers are far more generous in spirit than the Reform Party would have us believe. All those who agree with me applaud now.

That having been said, we agree that Canadians and Quebecers are far more generous, tolerant and open-minded than the Reform Party would have us believe.

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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Long live Canada.

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6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

I would ask the hon. parliamentary secretary to keep her cool. I sense this may be going somewhere I do not wish to go.

There is no one in the House who can say how many people of homosexual orientation there are. Why is that so? Because it is not part of our tax returns. When people file tax returns they do not declare whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. When there is a census we do not declare whether we are heterosexual or homosexual. So no one can say how many in the population are gay.

What we do know, however, is that gays are taxpaying members of society, members of the workforce. Often they are involved in their communities. There is no reason that would justify our not recognizing that reality, as parliamentarians.

The recognition of marriage, as you yourself have experienced it, Madam Speaker, is not something the gay community is calling for. In the last five years I do not think I have met ten people in the community who have told me they thought I should take up this battle. It is not a big issue in the gay community, which is not to say that it is not discriminatory to prevent homosexuals from marrying.

It may not be a big issue in the gay community but last year an application was made to the Quebec superior court for a declaratory judgment nonetheless. If Reform Party members wish to read this application I am prepared to table a copy.

This would bring home to parliamentarians that although this is not a major issue in the community and although there is a stronger body of opinion calling for recognition of same sex spouses, there are in fact a few cases pending before the courts.

Last year two Quebecers, Michael Hendrix and René Leboeuf, made an application for a declaratory judgment to strike down article 365 of the Civil Code. A number of arguments were advanced that I think it would be useful to share with the House.

I would like to digress at this point to say that if someone offered to marry me tomorrow morning it is not a course I would take, although someone does have his eye on me and any desire I may have had to remain unattached is flagging. After three years, perhaps my colleagues have noticed that I am a different man when I am in love. I say that even if marriage were legalized I would not commit to it.

However, in all logic, in all fairness, I think we must recognize that homosexual men and women are similar to people who have married.

I will share with members some arguments that were made in the brief tabled by Mr. Hendrix and Mr. Leboeuf in an application for a declaratory judgment. I dedicate these arguments to the Reform members and hope they will listen carefully. They wrote:

They are considered to have the same rights and the same obligations in their union. Together they have acquired matrimonial property and therefore have a common heritage.

There is no doubt that when we live together for five, six, eight or ten years we build a common heritage. This is undeniable.

They wrote further:

They vowed respect, fidelity, help and assistance to each other.

If fidelity, respect and mutual assistance are attributes of a heterosexual union, there is no reason to think that they are not also attributes of homosexual unions.

They also said:

They lived together without interruption from the start of their union. Although there were no children, they have formed a family unit since the start of their relationship, just like childless married couples.

I will conclude this part of my remarks by saying that the co-applicants, just like heterosexual married couples, established and maintained from the start of their shared life a permanent family residence.

Why am I doing this? Because, in strict civil and legal terms, there is no argument against the fact that two men or two women may live in extremely similar unions that have the same characteristics of heterosexual unions characterized by ties of marriage.

Naturally what make the difference—and I respect that—are religious convictions. It is obvious that in the official line of the church, in its official doctrine, there is no recognition of homosexual marriages just as there is no recognition of divorce. Does this mean that if the Reform Party insists on sticking to strictly religious arguments it will have to have an opposition day before the end of the present session in order to have it acknowledged that divorce also cannot be recognized? If one sticks to official church doctrine, divorce is something reprehensible.

Hon. members can see where this type of argument, which seeks to limit the debate to religious considerations, can lead. My point is that. if men and women make a commitment to a union, provide each other with support, are together and are happy together in a free-will arrangement, if they share assets, if they have a family home and define themselves as a family—what is termed common repute—then in my opinion there is no reason whatsoever not to recognize a marriage between two men or two women.

If the principal spokespersons of the gay community were here right now—which, as hon. members may know, means the gays in three major centres, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal—I believe they would agree with me that this is not an important debate among them, that it is not a demand being made by the gay community. The fact remains that it is discriminatory to deny people access to the institution of marriage and to recognize it as the sole prerogative of the heterosexual community.

I hope that along the way we will understand and once and for all the Reform Party members will rise in the House and admit that their arguments are based on religious beliefs, which I respect. However religious beliefs cannot be included in a bill because any reference to God has to be in the plural. Religion is a system of symbols that help us to understand the world.

As parliamentarians, we are well aware that the days of religious monolithism are gone. The God of the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve is not the God the Reform Party member might invoke. It is not the God that certain of our Muslim colleagues or some of our colleagues from other religious denominations might call on.

It is therefore not our place, as parliamentarians, to try to limit debates to religious considerations given that religion is a question of pluralism. If we set this argument aside there is no reason not to recognize marriage and not to open this institution up to same sex couples.

The solemnization of marriage remains a provincial jurisdiction. The basic conditions are the prerogative of the federal government.

If the Reform Party had wanted to make a useful contribution, it should have asked the House to vote on a motion to put marriage back under the jurisdiction of the provinces, which are much closer to any matters related to the family and family policy. I think that would have been as useful a debate as the one moved today.

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6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There has been consultation among the parties, including a meeting of the House leaders, and I think you would find unanimous consent for some travel motions.

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6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there agreement in the House?

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6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I move:

That eight members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food be authorized to travel to Paris, Brussels and Strasbourg from October 9 to October 16, 1999, in order to conduct some pre-World Trade Organization (WTO) consultations on agriculture with their European counterparts and that two staff members do accompany the committee.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I move:

That Monique Hébert, Research Officer of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, be authorized to travel to Toronto, Ontario from June 21 to June 23, 1999, for the purpose of participating in the Conference on: “A Tactical Briefing on the New Canadian Environmental Protection Act (C-32)”.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 83.1, in relation to the prebudget consultations, the members of the Standing Committee on Finance be authorized to travel to Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Halifax and Quebec City during the fall of 1999 to hold regional conferences and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I move:

That five members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and three staff persons travel to Quebec City to attend the Twentieth Annual Conference of the Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees from August 29 to August 31, 1999.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

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June 8th, 1999 / 6:20 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve for having made an important intervention in this debate and for the passion of his convictions. He has made a special contribution by demonstrating disagreement, contrary to the assertion of the hon. attorney general who said this morning that there will be no disagreement inside this House on this point.

Could the hon. member clarify for me that he does intend to oppose this motion because he supports the idea of changing the current legal definition of marriage to make it possible for those other than heterosexual relations? Will he be opposing this motion and will his party be supporting or opposing the motion? I would like to understand what they intend to do.

Does he not agree as he started with his remarks that this is a subject worth debating? Although he and I may disagree on the conclusion, would he agree this is a subject appropriate for public debate in this parliament?

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6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, I began by saying that I was very happy to have this debate. The credit goes to the Reform Party for proposing it.

However, I believe fundamentally that there are no reasons beyond religious considerations that may not be included in a bill. I believe that there are no reasons why the institution of marriage, a social construction existing in laws and in the civil code, should not now be open to homosexual couples.

I do not believe that it exists as a divine right. I believe it is also an intervention of the lawmaker. If it were not the case it would make no sense for the Reform Party to be proposing a motion such the one before us now.

We are indeed happy to have this debate and we do believe this should be discussed among parliamentarians. However, I hope that, with vigour, parliamentarians will reject this motion.

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6:25 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I have been waiting all day for a chance to make a few comments. I realize a lot of other people would like to do that. Perhaps we will have to extend the debate.

Some of the criticism we have received as Reformers is that there are more important things to talk about. We are talking about the family, the fundamental building block of society. It is necessary that we discuss this and send a clear signal to the courts.

I want to read from an article written by Lorne Gunter in the Edmonton Journal . The title is “Cohabitation costly for the taxpayer”. He wrote:

—studies consistently find that 80 to 85 per cent of couples who start out by living together fail to make it through life together. Among couples who never lived together before wedding one another, the failure rate is under 20 per cent. Still, what gives anyone else the right to suggest common-law marriages are wrong? Just one thing: the cost of cleaning up the wreckage. Children whose parents' relationship breaks down are much more likely to underachieve at school and in life. They are nearly twice as likely to drop out, and girls are nearly three times as likely to get pregnant before leaving their teens and far more likely to have abortions. Suicides are higher, illegal drug use is greater and the incidence of `getting into trouble with the law' is nearly six times more. Simple marital breakdown is the leading cause of social problems, perhaps the leading cause. So because common-law relationships are so prone to breakdown they contribute disproportionately to the social ills that everyone must live with and subsidize.

In other words, we are talking about the family. We are talking about children. We are talking about the fundamental building block of society, not all the other things that people are trying to bring into this discussion.