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

The Late Hugh Hanrahan
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Progressive Conservative caucus I join in sending our sympathy to Mrs. Hanrahan and their daughter Margaret on the loss they have suffered in the passing of Hugh Hanrahan.

From what others have said, particularly the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister of Justice, it is very clear that the community in Edmonton is poorer for the tragic early death of Mr. Hanrahan. Yet it is very clear that in his short life he achieved much.

As an educator, orator and member of the House of Commons, Mr. Hanrahan served his constituents and his country proudly. He received the accolades and the respect of his peers in each capacity, and he served with dignity. This is not surprising for he was a son of Antigonish and the product of St. Francis Xavier University. His attachment to his Scottish and Irish ancestries was worn with pride. He has now returned to the welcoming arms of his beloved Nova Scotia.

We are grateful that Hugh Hanrahan was prepared to serve his community and the House. The country is richer because he did so. He served the public in a noble and dignified way. The loss to his family and his country is immense. With all members of his family, his party and this place, we mourn his loss.

The Late Hugh Hanrahan
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe you would find unanimous consent of the House to allow me to present a petition.

The Late Hugh Hanrahan
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member is seeking unanimous consent to present a petition. Is there consent?

The Late Hugh Hanrahan
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 8th, 1999 / 3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise, pursuant to Standing Order 36, to present a petition signed by my constituents of Simcoe—Grey.

The petitioners call upon parliament to uphold and reinforce section 163.4 of the Criminal Code making it illegal to possess child pornography.

They also request that parliament use all resources available to counteract the ruling of the Supreme Court of British Columbia and once again to assure children all over Canada that the Canadian government supports their right to be free from abuse and exploitation.

I pay thanks and congratulations to Lisa Mooij, an energetic 14 year old who did all the research, organization and work on this petition.

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

Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, this motion arises out of the controversy that followed various supreme court decisions and various other court decisions that were intended to extend various benefits to same sex couples.

I really believe that the controversy is an empty controversy if we as legislators apply ourselves to a few relatively easy changes.

I believe that the majority of Canadians believe in the principle, in the rightness as described in our charter of rights, of making sure all Canadians have equal access to benefits and that they should not be discriminated against because of sexual orientation.

I believe that over the last 20 years Canadians have come to more and more recognize that homosexuality is something that is given to us at birth, that it is not really an alternative lifestyle. It is something that nature or God gives us. It is a flaw, perhaps, or an abnormality. I should say there is nothing unnatural about an abnormality because every one of us is born with differences, weaknesses or strengths.

I think all of us as Canadians believe that we should not discriminate against people merely because they are different from the norm. Indeed homosexual couples and homosexual individuals I think are generally acknowledged to have contributed mightily to the creative life in any country or any community to which they belong.

That having been said, I think we can fix this situation by a few simple legislated definitions. The first should be to legislate a definition of marriage that means legally that marriage is a union between opposite sex couples. Second, we should legislate a definition of spouse.

We have no choice but to connect spouse with the idea of marriage because the dictionary defines spouse as husband and wife, and only the courts can play Samuel Johnson at their whim and redefine language whenever they please. We as legislators have to respect language in both English and French and make sure that we are using current language and using words as they are intended to be used.

Then what we should do is create a new definition and call it dependent partner. We define dependent partner as an adult who is in an emotionally dependent relationship with another person leading to material dependency. We can extend that definition to say that it involves siblings, that it involves parent and child, or that it involves people of the same sex who are in a physical relationship with one another.

Once we do that then the rest should fall in place. As long as we set aside the fear associated with defining same sex couples as being married, as having the right to adopt children or as eroding the sanctity of marriage, I think the vast majority of Canadians, whether they are very religious or not very religious, will join with this parliament in agreeing that we should make sure all people who are in an emotionally dependent relationship should have equal access to benefits. The advantage to this is that we take, for the most part, sex out of the definition.

I certainly believe, as a former Liberal prime minister once said, that parliament has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. I believe that is so. We should be talking about dependent relationships, not sexual relationships.

I think this is an easy solution. We should think about it over the summer. I am glad the Reform Party put this motion forward today because we are coming to the end of this sitting and we need to reflect on this issue so we can easily resolve it when the fall comes.

Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member's comments in support of the Reform motion. The more I hear of this debate and the more I hear some members speak and where they are coming from, I actually get very scared about what is an obsession with the issue.

Now we hear from the hon. member that he wants not only to define marriage as he sees it but also to define spouse as it relates to marriage. I have to question what right do I, or does the member or anyone else, have to do that.

People who live together may define themselves as or may self-identify as spouses. They may be in a common law relationship as man and woman. They may be of the same sex.

I find quite frightening the way this debate is going in terms of hearing on one hand that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, which the member has so eloquently called forward from the past. Yet the very motion and debate that is taking place would do exactly that. It would enforce the state into people's private lives and define people's relationships.

For what reason do we need to do that? Who is this threatening? Who is being threatened by people's choice and decision about how they live if it is not causing harm to other people?

I am genuinely asking that question because I have difficulty understanding for what reason the member believes the state should be making this enforcement in terms of a definition not only of marriage but now of spouse. What will be next? Will we define the family?

Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, we have just heard an example of the rhetoric of intolerance. It is the proper place of this place to define things in law. That is our job. That is what we are here to do. It is my right. I was elected by my constituents to do exactly that.

If the member had been here when I spoke earlier, she would have heard me say that the danger, and why we have to intervene and make these definitions, is that if we do not the courts are likely to extinguish the rights of children.

I am not sure in my conscience that, all things being equal, a child should have a homosexual couple as parents. I am willing to acknowledge that homosexual parents can be good parents. I am willing to give the officials the discretion to make them parents. However I am not willing to give them the right of being parents because, in doing so, we extinguish the rights of children. I cannot do that. It is my place to define the law to make sure that the rights of children are protected.

Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I commend the member for Wentworth—Burlington on his eloquent remarks.

I point to the comments of the attorney general this morning who asked in this place why we should be using the already limited time of the House to debate a motion on which there will be no fundamental disagreement inside or outside the House. I raise this point because the member indicated he thought this was a worthwhile motion, as do I.

Will he not agree with me that we have heard members of the House disagree fundamentally with the principle stated in the motion? I do not raise this as a partisan point but rather to demonstrate that the governing party of Canada, and not the government, strongly urges the federal government to recognize same sex marriages in the same way as opposite marriages in its distribution of benefits.

Will the hon. member recognize that this is a live issue, that there is, contrary to what the attorney general said, fundamental disagreement about it?

Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe the vast majority of us agree that benefits should be extended to same sex couples. The issue here is simply the danger of allowing marriage to be defined as a same sex relationship. Not only does that go against a thousand years of tradition in law, the church, language and every other thing, but there is a serious danger to the rights of children.

That being said, on this side there is great diversity of opinion and great freedom to express opinion. If an attorney general somewhere or the solicitor general or the justice minister expresses himself or herself in the House, I still have the privilege of expressing myself in my way.

Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I am very honoured to enter into debate on the very important question of the definition of marriage, the definition of spouse, and the upholding of the family.

I will bring a perspective to the debate which is just a little different from most of those that have been expressed, although there has been a current of what I will say through many of the speeches we have heard so far today.

I think of marriage and family in a very special way. I made reference in a member's statement today to the fact that this summer my wife and I will been married for 38 years. I think that one of our friends had it right when she said at our 37th anniversary “Betty deserves a medal”. That was probably true. I try to be a loving and caring husband. However, as do all husbands and all spouses, we sometimes fall just a little short of the mark, even the one we would set for ourselves and our spouses.

We have a very solid family relationship based on marriage. To me it goes somewhat beyond the verbal definition.

One of the reasons I am so supportive of this motion is because we are talking about words. We are talking about language. Unless we use words which we understand to have a common meaning it makes communication very difficult. We all know that over time language changes. All one has to do is read a bit of Shakespeare to realize that the English usage a scant 150 or 200 years ago was somewhat different in many areas from what it is now. Even in my own lifetime I have seen some changes in the language.

When I was a young man “do not speed” meant not to go faster than the prescribed limit on the highway. The word speed had quite a different connotation when I was a young man in the hippie era. I remember in my day when “keep off the grass” meant not to go on the neighbour's lawn. Now keep off the grass may have something to do with something quite different.

I suppose I should hesitate to use this spectacular example, yet it is a real example so I will use it. We had a motto in grade eight. I still remember it well. Our teacher and the school principal were trying to teach us to make sure that we were diligent in our work. The reward for doing good work was to have enjoyment for it afterward. Our school motto was “First we work and then we play because that is the way to be happy and gay”. In my generation the word simply meant carefree, happy and without worry. Now the word gay has a fairly different connotation because it has been pre-empted by the homosexual community. Quite often when I visit high schools and I talk about that grade eight school motto it evokes a good chuckle because of the change in the meaning of the word. That happens in the English language.

What we are concerned about is not only the legality of it but the deeper meaning. The reason for this motion today is that we want to able to give the courts a very clear message of what our meaning of the word marriage is and what the definition is in terms of what the legal implications are. As I said in my preamble, to me the meaning of marriage is very deep.

On July 15, 1961 my wife and I stood in front of a minister at a church. We expressed our vows to each other. I still remember most of them. I do not know if I could still quote them verbatim; however, they had to do with being true to each other, to cling to each other and to no other until death do us part. That was the vow that we made. It was made not only to each other in the presence of witnesses, it was also made very profoundly in the presence of God.

I am here today to share this aspect of a definition of marriage. For many ions of time it has meant the union of a man and a woman. To me it is not only a relationship or that my wife and I are living under the same roof and sharing expenses, it is much more than that. It is a deeply meaningful, spiritual relationship under God, with an oath that we gave to him as well as to each other.

I remember my grandparents. They passed away a number of years ago. We celebrated their 25th when I was a little kid. I do not even remember that. However, I do remember celebrating their 50th, their 60th and their 65th. Grandfather died when he was 88, in their 67th year of marriage. That is when this part of the vow came into play for them: “Till death do us part”.

My own parents have celebrated their anniversaries over the years and I certainly remember their 25th, 50th and 60th. Lord willing, they will be celebrating their 65th next year in the millennium year. That is their millennium project. They are still very healthy and we are very grateful for that. They too have had a lifelong, deep, monogamous, faithful relationship with each other. There is a deeply held meaning in the word marriage, a union between a man and a woman for life. As I have said, my wife and I share that same meaning.

I do not know whether we are ready in this country to start fooling around with a definition that is so deeply meaningful to so many Canadians. I am quite convinced that the definition I hold, which adds that further dimension to marriage, is one that is held by the majority of Canadians; not only by those of the Christian faith, but also by those of other faiths. I think of the Sikhs, the Muslims, the Hindus. They all have a relationship of marriage which they clearly understand to be the union of a man and a woman. We err terribly by even suggesting that possibly some court could change that definition.

I am here today to declare that I am going to very solidly, proudly and out of a deep sense of duty and obligation vote in favour of the motion, and not because it is immediately a threat. The Minister of Justice has told us that. Some of my colleagues have already quoted words which she has used both verbally and in response to letters from constituents and in response to petitions. The Liberals have no intention of changing the definition of marriage from that which is currently in use, it being the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. That is the current definition. I believe that they have no intention of changing it.

Why do we bring this motion? It is very simple. We want to send a loud and extremely clear message, not only to the Canadian people but also to the courts of this country, that the will of the people as expressed in this democracy is that the definition should remain unaltered.

Think of the word “spouse”. What can spouse mean other than the wife of a husband or the husband of a wife? The courts are starting to change the word “spouse”. Even in this House we have had some bills like Bill C-78, which in its obscure parts refers to anybody in a conjugal relationship.

Marriage keeps the government out of our bedrooms because it is a valid relationship which stands on its own without inspectors. We err when we go in the direction of changing the definition of spouse, the definition of marriage and, indeed, the very definition of love and lifelong commitment.

Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maud Debien Laval East, QC

Madam Speaker, I have listened to our colleague from the Reform Party giving examples of the changing meaning of words throughout history, and he is absolutely right. His examples were very pertinent. He also said it was the role of parliament to give a legal value to words and to their profound meaning.

Listening to the hon. member, it would appear that only married heterosexual spouses forming a family with children are worthy and capable of fidelity, love, mutual support and sharing.

I have a question for him: Does he believe that words are not the only things that can evolve over time, but that attitudes could as well?

Supply
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, we are really not talking about other kinds of relationships today. There is no doubt that they exist. There is no doubt that people have remained close friends and, as some would say, conjugal friends. I do not like the word in that context, but there it is. Obviously that happens. That is not what we are talking about.

I am talking about the preservation of the language, of the use of the term, what it means as a deep meaning, and this one is the union of a man and a woman in marriage. I do not really think that we are talking about the other one. That may occur and that is a subject for another day.

Supply
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, this is the day on which we are having our last debate on the expenditure of over $150 billion that we will have to vote on later tonight, much later tonight probably. I am totally mystified as to why we have a motion that is a real bogeyman before us today.

The motion makes specific reference to court decisions and is seeking to have parliament confirm the idea of marriage. I would ask the member opposite if he is aware of one court decision that has anything to do with changing, modifying, even questioning the definition of marriage, which is well established in common law, or if he is aware of any court decision that has anything to do with changing the definition of family. The only one I am aware of is a decision at the trial court level which says very specifically that section 15 of the charter cannot be used to redefine marriage.