House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

Topics

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

moved that Bill C-264, an act to amend the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act (marriage between persons of the same sex), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today is an historic day for the gay and lesbian community in Canada. It is the first time in Canadian history that legislation is being debated that would allow gay or lesbian couples to legally marry in Canada.

I want to begin my comments this morning by thanking some of my colleagues in the House for supporting this landmark bill. I want to first thank my colleague, the member of parliament for Vancouver East, for seconding the bill and for her long history of support for equality for gay and lesbian people throughout Canada.

I also want to thank those members of the Liberal Party who supported the bill: the member for Toronto Centre--Rosedale, the member for St. Paul's and others. I hear some Liberal backbenchers heckling and indicating they do not support the bill. I would ask that they at least show respect for their own colleagues and for other members of the House. They may not accept equality but surely they can accept the right of members of the House to debate this important issue in an atmosphere of civility and dignity.

I would also like to thank the members of the Bloc Quebecois who supported this important bill and especially the member for Hochelaga--Maisonneuve, who cannot participate in the debate this morning but who has, for a long time, been promoting justice and equality for gay and lesbian communities in Canada. I also thank the member for Joliette, who will participate in the debate and support the bill.

I would also like to extend my appreciation to the member for Kings--Hants from the Progressive Conservative Democratic Coalition for his support for the principle of this important legislation.

It is clear that the Canadian public is well ahead of political leaders and of the government when it comes to this important issue of the basic right of equality of gay and lesbian people who choose to marry to be able to do so. The most recent public opinion poll showed that something like two-thirds of Canadians across Canada in every region of Canada were prepared to accept this equality. We are not talking about any kind of special rights or privileges. What we are talking about are equal rights, equal rights that are guaranteed to gay and lesbian people under section 15 of the charter of rights and freedoms.

Under section 15 of our charter, which came into force in April 1985, all Canadians are equal. With respect to gay and lesbian people, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that gay and lesbian people are included under section 15 when they are involved in committed and loving relationships.

We have certainly made significant progress on the journey toward full equality both federally and at the provincial and territorial level. Last year landmark legislation was passed in the House of Commons, Bill C-23, legislation that extended a whole range of rights and responsibilities to gay and lesbian people and couples.

However Bill C-23 fell short in the critical area of recognition of the right to marry. In one of the final days of debate on the bill, the Liberal Minister of Justice introduced an amendment that shamefully explicitly excluded affirmation of the right of gay and lesbian people to marry.

I am confident the courts will ultimately rule that equality means equality and that we as gay and lesbian people should be entitled to the equal right to marriage.

I also want to acknowledge the important work EGALE has done on the issue of equality for gays and lesbians and on many other issues. EGALE is a national organization that speaks out on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people across the country. It has been tireless in its advocacy of equality and I salute the members of EGALE for continuing to work hard on this issue.

Many individuals, couples and organizations across the land have supported the right to full equality. I am proud as a New Democrat that my party is the only national party with a clear policy that calls for recognition of equality for gay and lesbian people in marriage and in all other areas of society. I speak today on behalf of the members of my caucus and the leader of my party, the member for Halifax, who has also, from the very beginning of her career and days in politics, been a tireless advocate for equality for gay and lesbian people.

A number of churches and religious leaders have also been in the forefront of this struggle. I particularly want to acknowledge the work done by Rev. Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community Church who has been promoting equality for many years. On January 14, 2001, Rev. Brent Hawkes, the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, celebrated the marriage between Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, as well as the marriage of Elaine Vautour and Anne Vautour.

As Rev. Brent Hawkes said:

We look forward to the day, when Canada embraces the diversity of all people, and legally recognizes what God already knows--that love has no bounds.

The bill itself is a very short bill. It is entitled the Marriage Capacity Act and states that “a marriage between two persons is not invalid by reason only that they are of the same sex”.

I would note parenthetically that obviously all of the existing barriers to marriage, for example, barriers to marriage between relatives, or between brothers and sisters, remain in the existing legislation under the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act. Nothing changes that at all. Those barriers remain.

This would simply remove the common law barrier to same sex marriage. I would like to emphasize that this barrier goes back to a decision in the British courts from 1886 in a case called Hyde v Hyde. Those were the days when marriage had a very different meaning. In fact those were the days in which within the institution of marriage rape was legal and violence was legal. A husband was allowed to beat his wife as long as the stick that he used was no wider than the width of his thumb. Certainly a precedent dating back to those days and that recognition of marriage is not one which should be used to deny equality to gay and lesbian people today. It should certainly not be used in that way.

Indeed there are challenges to that. As I said, there is no statutory bar at the federal level. It is strictly judge made law and in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia there are currently cases proceeding in the courts to challenge that legal barrier.

In Quebec, a gay couple launched a court challenge, and we hope the two partners will win their case.

In Ontario the city of Toronto is supporting that legal challenge and in British Columbia the former attorney general, Andrew Petter, had the courage to speak out in support of the legal challenge as well.

There has been one ruling to date specifically on these challenges. It came in a British Columbia court decision by Mr. Justice Ian Pitfield, and I must say that many of us were astonished at that decision because it flies in the face of not only justice and reason but fairness. He found that the constitution of Canada itself, in his words, expressed an intention that discrimination would be permitted. This is an extraordinary ruling and one that I am confident will be overturned by the courts when it goes to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and ultimately to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The bill would change the law to allow those gay and lesbian people who choose to marry to do so. It would not in any way affect religious marriage and it is important to underline that. It is strictly about civil marriage. Those faiths that are prepared to celebrate and affirm the marriages of gay and lesbian couples within their faith community would be permitted to do so. Those not prepared to do so would not in any way be required or forced to do so. Just as, for example, within some faiths there are barriers to interfaith marriages today that are not legally challenged in any way so too would that discretion still be there for religions not prepared to recognize the equality of their gay and lesbian parishioners.

I might be asked, what difference does marriage make and why do gay and lesbian people want the right, the choice, the option of marriage? I think it is important to recognize that marriage is the most prominent way today in which two persons' romantic love and commitment to each other are recognized and affirmed. Excluding gay and lesbian people from the institution of marriage sends a clear message that our relationships, the relationships of same sex couples, are somehow not as worthy of recognition and affirmation. On the other hand, including same sex marriages in civil marriage would send a positive message to all Canadians, one that says that regardless of whether someone loves a man or a woman that love will be valued, honoured, affirmed and treated with equal dignity and respect.

I often have the privilege of speaking in schools in my constituency and elsewhere. Kids like to talk about the lives of members of parliament and they ask what kind of life I have, what the challenges are, what I like about the job and what is difficult about the job. Sometimes kids will ask if I am married. I tell them I am not married, that I have a partner whose name is Max, we have been together for seven years and love one another very much, we want to spend the rest of our lives together and that relationship is very important to us and is the most important relationship in my life. Those kids will often ask why I cannot get married or why I do not get married or if I do not want to marry him. I tell them I do want to and I would like to have that choice, but I do not have it because the laws of this country do not allow me, as a gay man, that choice.

How would giving me and my partner Max that choice in any way weaken heterosexual marriage? How would it in any way weaken the strength, the love, the commitment of heterosexual partnerships? It would not change that at all. Surely heterosexual marriage is not so fragile that allowing gay and lesbian people to marry would cause it to come tumbling down like a house of cards. Surely in this time of such pain, in the aftermath of the horrors of September 11, any steps that we can take as a society to strengthen the affirmation of love in our society in a positive way is something we should be encouraging.

Marriage is about love and commitment. It is true that some gay and lesbian couples would not want to get married if that choice were available, just as some heterosexual couples choose to live common law, but surely we should recognize the right of choice. Canada would not be the first country to do so. The Netherlands moved earlier this year to fully recognize marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

I am confident that it will happen in Canada as well, but why should gay and lesbian people be forced through the courts? Why should we be wasting taxpayers' money to fight for this small but important step on the road to full equality?

Sometimes it is said that we cannot allow gay and lesbian people to marry because marriage is about children and procreation. The best answer to that came in a very eloquent editorial in the Globe and Mail just this month. It said:

The issue of children is a red herring; many couples who are married do not procreate, many couples procreate outside marriage and many gay couples raise children, adopted or conceived with the egg or sperm of one partner. Expanding the tent would enable loving gays in committed relationships to agree to the solemn obligations of the marriage contract. And what are we talking of, if not respect for family values?

That is what I want to appeal to today in closing, those traditional family values. We as gay and lesbian people are families also. The bill would allow the full and equal recognition of our families. I call on all members of the House to support this important legislation.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Vancouver Quadra
B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-264 proposes certain amendments to the Marriage Act to allow legal marriage for same sex couples. I will begin by commending the member for Burnaby--Douglas in as strong and sincere terms as I can for his tireless and principled work over many years for the equality of gay and lesbian Canadians. All members of the House and all Canadians should feel proud of his achievements and his determination.

At the outset I emphasize that the Government of Canada takes seriously its obligations to ensure equal treatment of all its citizens including gay and lesbian Canadians. It is because of this constitutional obligation that the government moved last year to enact the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act which provides equal treatment for common law same sex partners by extending the same benefits and obligations under federal law that are granted to common law opposite sex partners.

I am proud to say that not only does the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act fully comply with our constitutional obligations. It goes further than any other jurisdiction in Canada in ensuring equal treatment for gay and lesbian Canadians. I am also proud to say that Canada is in the forefront of the world in ensuring that gay and lesbian couples are treated under the federal law with dignity and respect.

Bill C-264 proposes to fundamentally alter the legal concept of marriage by legislatively overriding the common law and civil law rule on legal capacity that a marriage is “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”.

Canada is unique in the world for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that our laws are based on two of the great legal traditions, the common law and the civil law. In both these traditions there is a clarity as to the legal meaning of the term marriage which can be traced back into history. Because of this Canada is not alone in its understanding of the legal concept of marriage.

European countries that have provided a registration system similar to marriage have deliberately chosen to maintain a clear distinction in law between registration and marriage. In terms of the approach taken by the House last year, a review of other countries shows that few have enacted legislation designed to extend benefits and obligations to same sex couples on the same basis as to opposite sex couples.

As mentioned previously, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act extends equal treatment to common law same sex couples and common law opposite sex couples with respect to federal benefits and obligations.

The act was a comprehensive piece of legislation. It amended 68 federal statutes falling within the mandate of some 23 federal departments and agencies. Some of the major federal statutes of general application that were modernized by the act include the Canadian pension plan, the Old Age Security Act, the Income Tax Act and the criminal code.

The Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act provides a responsible and balanced approach to extending equal treatment to same sex couples and ensuring that same sex couples receive the same benefits and obligations under the law as opposite sex couples.

I will turn for a moment to some of the legal difficulties with the bill before us today. Because provincial and territorial laws are based on the same concepts of marriage that are reflected in federal law, Bill C-264 would affect hundreds of laws from coast to coast. Other legal rules about capacity to marry that are currently in the common law are based on the opposite sex nature of marriage. These rules have been developed over many years and would require radical and even legislative change to fit same sex couples.

For example, opposite sex couples can be granted an annulment under the common law for lack of consummation. Adultery is grounds for divorce. Incest in the criminal code is based on an opposite sex model. All these would need to be fundamentally altered to fit same sex relationships.

Various court challenges address a number of issues including constitutional jurisdiction with respect to altering the definition of marriage. The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas has mentioned the B.C. case which is working its way to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. As such it would be premature to act at this time before we receive guidance from the courts on this point. Once we have received guidance from the courts parliament can decide to act if it is necessary and appropriate at that time.

With respect to Bill C-264, legally there is an additional problem. The bill proposes to simply change the title of the current act and add one clause. However the whole statute is based on opposite sex relationships and represents the entire set of limitations on who can legally marry whom. If the bill were to proceed without the appropriate adjustments it would effectively create a new discrimination.

The government believes strongly in ensuring equal treatment and legal recognition for people in both same sex unions and opposite sex relationships. Recognizing the commitment of spouses and common law partners, including those in same sex unions, is an important and worthy goal and one that is strongly supported by a majority of Canadians.

The Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act achieves this objective. For these reasons the Minister of Justice cannot support Bill C-264.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are here to address Bill C-264, an act to amend the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act, whose purpose is to enable marriage between persons of the same sex.

The bill as proposed would add the following text to the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act of Canada. It would add subclause 4.1:

A marriage between two persons is not invalid by reason only that they are of the same sex.

I will be opposing the bill on two grounds. First, it is not necessary to modify the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act of Canada to permit same sex marriage. Second, marriage is principally a provincial and not a federal concern.

It must be noted that the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act does not deal in any way with same sex marriage and/or the broader definition of marriage itself. The Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act of Canada, an act respecting the laws prohibiting marriages between related persons, states:

  1. (1) Subject to subsection (2), persons related by consanguinity, affinity or adoption are not prohibited from marrying each other by reason only of their relationship.

(2) No person shall marry another person if they are related

(a) lineally by consanguinity or adoption;

(b) as brother and sister by consanguinity, whether by the whole blood or by the half-blood; or

(c) as brother and sister by adoption.

  1. This Act contains all of the prohibitions in law in Canada against marriage by reason of the parties being related.

The amendment by the member for Burnaby--Douglas would add the following text:

4.1 A marriage between two persons is not invalid by reason only that they are of the same sex.

The member's amendment is totally and wholly unnecessary. At no point does the current act prohibit same sex unions. It only mentions the types of marriage which are not legally valid. Same sex unions do not appear on that list. It is based solely on common law consanguinity concerns. These exist purely for the purpose of minimizing the chance of genetic problems in the offspring of a marriage.

History has taught us that siblings should not marry. It has also taught us that parents should not marry their children. These are the types of relationships prohibited in the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act. These prohibitions are based on genetics. Given that same sex couples cannot reproduce, the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act does not address them in any way whatsoever.

At the same time it must be noted that the act does not discriminate on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, mental disability or physical disability.

Given that the act does not affect same sex couples and that no one has suggested it discriminates on the grounds covered in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the proposed amendment is wholly unnecessary.

The second reason for opposing the amendment is that marriage is principally a provincial and not a federal concern. In the EGALE case, Mr. Justice Pitfield of the British Columbia Supreme Court wrote at paragraph 122 that same sex relationships were:

--a matter of civil rights of persons within British Columbia. That being the case, the provincial legislature may provide for their formalization and recognition should it wish to do so.

B.C.'s marriage act relies on common law to define “qualification of persons about to marry”. The relevant portion of the act, in chapter 282, reads:

In matters not provided for law of England prevails

6 Subject to this Act and any Act of Canada in force in British Columbia, the law of England as it existed on November 19, 1858 prevails in all matters relating to the following:

(a) the mode of solemnizing marriages;

(b) the validity of marriages;

(c) the qualification of parties about to marry;

(d) the consent of guardians or parents, or any person whose consent is necessary to the validity of a marriage.

The ability to amend the B.C. marriage act lies only with the provincial government of British Columbia. The previous NDP government chose not to make those amendments. It had nine years in absolute power with a majority government in the provincial legislature and it chose not to do so.

Two of British Columbia's former premiers, Mr. Glen Clark and Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh, happen to live in the same community as the member for Burnaby--Douglas who is sponsoring the legislation. Had he really wanted to amend B.C.'s marriage act the member would have taken up his cause with either of the two former premiers. They live in his riding. They are members of his party. They led a government of his own party and he presumably knows them on a first name basis. One of them, if not both of them, are constituents of his and vice versa.

The member had a golden opportunity to raise the issue with a sympathetic provincial government that had the jurisdiction to make the changes he seeks. He missed his chance to do so.

I respectfully submit that the legislation fails on the two grounds I have mentioned in my speech. If the hon. member really wanted to impact on whether people of the same sex have the right to unify in the institution of marriage, he should have taken his fight to the appropriate legislature. That would have been the provincial legislature and not the federal one. Frankly I am surprised that a lawyer does not know the difference.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Burnaby--Douglas for his initiative in presenting his bill to allow marriage between persons of the same sex.

In my opinion, it is high time we put an end to this anomaly, this discrimination which spoils the reputation of Canada and that of Quebec by expressing our collective will to fight against discriminations of all sorts.

According to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms already recognizes the equality of gays and lesbians. Therefore, how can we explain that the legislator refuses to grant same sex couples the right to marry legally? We are talking here about civil weddings of course, and I think the member explained that quite clearly in his presentation.

Last year, passage of Bill C-23 repealed almost all explicit references to the gender of partners in federal statutes. As far as we know, there are only four acts left where partners in a couple are specifically defined as heterosexual: the Divorce Act, the Canada Evidence Act, the Criminal Code and the Canada Shipping Act.

What the member is asking for would require very little effort on the part of the legislators. A few amendments would suffice to put an end to this incredible discrimination.

I listened to representatives of the Liberal Party and the Canadian Alliance mention various legislative objections to passing this bill. I do not think that is what is at issue.

If a certain number of amendments to legislation must be made in order to meet the bill's objectives, we will make them but I think the crux of the matter is whether or not Canadian parliamentarians are prepared to remove this obstacle, this discrimination, in order to allow same sex couples to be married in a civil ceremony.

In my opinion, the legal arguments should naturally be consistent with our vision of respect for the freedoms and equality of all citizens of Canada and Quebec.

What is really at issue here is our concept of citizenship. Is every member of society, regardless of religion, political beliefs, sex or sexual orientation entitled to the same treatment, rights and obligations? This is where we must respond in the affirmative by making civil marriage open to same sex couples.

I am referring here to a dissenting opinion by Justice L'Heureux-Dubé, who said in a ruling concerning a civil marriage case:

Given the marginalized position of homosexuals in society, the metamessage that flows almost inevitably from excluding same-sex couples from such an important social institution--

She is referring here to civil marriage.

--is essentially that society considers such relationships to be less worthy of respect, concern and consideration than relationships involving members of the opposite sex.

I share this view entirely. In response to this comment by Justice L'Heureux-Dubé, it seems to me that we must make it very clear that citizenship as we understand it in Canada entitles one to the same rights, obligations and institutions, including civil marriage.

As I mentioned earlier, I think it is time to end this discriminatory situation, which reflects poorly on Canada.

Obviously, there is nothing preventing same sex couples from living together. This, I think, is what many of them decide to do, as do many heterosexual couples now.

However that is not the issue. It has to do with whether or not they will be given access to the institution of marriage if they so wish. Some people decide that they do want to marry. I do not see why the fact that they are a same sex couple should prevent them from being able to marry if they choose it freely. Marriage would provide them with some additional protection under certain statutes.

More fundamental, in the context of a relationship between two persons, the decision to marry can improve the quality of the relationship. This reflects their perception.

Let me give a personal example. I lived common law with my wife for several years. There came a time when we decided to marry. We felt that marriage would strengthen our commitment to each other. It meant something more than being in a common law relationship. This was our perception of the situation as a couple. There was no institution preventing us from having a civil wedding, and that is what we did in the end. This year we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.

As I see it, the situation is the same for same sex couples. They must have the right, if they so choose, to marry if they think that it will improve the quality of their relationship. Once again, I repeat that it is up to the couple to decide. Granting gays and lesbians access to civil marriage reflects what society believes. Clearly, the law is totally outdated on this score.

In a Canada-wide poll conducted in June by Léger Marketing, Canadians were asked if they believed homosexuals had the same rights as other Canadians: 75.7% answered yes. Thus, more than three-quarters of Canadians believe that homosexuals deserve to have all of the rights available in our society.

As concerns civil marriage more specifically, 65.4% of people said they agreed that same sex couples should be able to marry under our laws.

On a personal level, this is a commitment or a position I have had for over 15 years at least. As for unions, as the secretary general of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux since the early 1990s, I fought for the removal from collective agreements of all existing discrimination with regard to same sex couples. We worked hard at that, which led to passage of legislation on this subject by the National Assembly. I think we have to follow that logic through to its conclusion and give same sex couples access to the institution of civil marriage.

During the election campaign I also made a commitment to ensure that gays and lesbians had access to all the civil rights in Canada, including the right to get married. In my case, this is tied in with this notion of citizenship, which I find extremely important. I share the opinion of the hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas that, following the events of September 11, Canada must become even more exemplary with regard to the defence of rights and freedoms. What we are doing here is, first and foremost, fighting for rights and freedoms.

I will conclude by saying that two of my three children are still rather young and I do not know yet what sexual orientation they will choose. No matter what their choice will be I hope they will not become social outcasts and will have access to the same rights as all the citizens of Canada.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say a few words on Bill C-264. The bill would make two changes in the current Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act. The first would be to change the title of the act to the marriage capacity act. The second of course would add section 4.1, which would state:

A marriage between two persons is not invalid by reason only that they are of the same sex.

At the outset, I want to say I cannot support the bill. Obviously, as the title of the act being amended indicates, there are prohibitions on who can marry. Close blood relatives, for instance, are forbidden to marry because of possible birth defects to any children arising out of the marriage. Brothers and sisters may not marry. A divorced person may remarry but not to a child of the previous marriage.

Marriage is considered to be an activity for mature individuals, given the rights and responsibilities that go along with that. Therefore, in this country we do not permit children to marry each other or an adult to marry a child. Both parties to a marriage must be of an age and of an intelligence to understand the serious nature of the institution into which they are entering.

I cannot stress enough the word institution. Institutions are a deep rooted part of our culture and are something that should not be lightly tampered with and should not likely be changed.

Our society, as we are all very much aware, has evolved and these days common law heterosexual or opposite sex couples have the same rights and obligations to property as do married couples. The House, as we are all very much aware as well, recently passed a law extending certain rights with regard to pensions and what have we to common law, homosexual or same sexual couples.

However, at the same time it should be pointed out that the House went out of its way to insert a clause in that legislation reasserting that while being a couple was one thing being a married couple was entirely different. That clause went out of the way to state that a marriage was a union between a man and a woman only. That must be maintained.

The hon. member's proposed title change takes the emphasis off who may not marry and replaces it with an emphasis on who may marry. I do not support the new emphasis because I see it as eroding a basic concept of our law, namely that marriage is restricted to opposite sex couples only.

I want to make it perfectly clear that heterosexual people have to be tolerant of other ways of life. However, I would submit that it is time for homosexual people to be tolerant of the heterosexual way of life as well, which is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. That is very clear in the legislation.

Similarly, the new section 4.1 says that being a same sex couple should not preclude the union being regarded as a marriage. That is diametrically opposed, as I said a moment ago, to the clause that was inserted in the bill, which restricted marriage to opposite sex couples only.

The other factor here of course for many of us is that a marriage, whether performed by a judge or a clergy person, is deemed to be more than just a sexual union between a man and a woman. A marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our society. It is one of the basic building blocks of a family. It is therefore also a spiritual union between a man and a women, a union uniquely designed for the conception and nurturing of children.

That is not to say, of course, that all married people have children, they do not. However, the potential is there and the institution lends itself very well to that potential should it ever become a reality.

A family, of course, is under pressure from many different directions in this fast-paced secular world in which we live. In all conscience I cannot support motions or bills which would put additional pressure on the institution of marriage, as marriage is one of the central pillars of family life.

Again, let me be clear. I do not support discrimination against same sex couples, however, they do not fit the recognized definition of a marriage because marriage is union of two people of opposite sexes.

I would like to quote what I recently read in the Australian Melbourne Herald Sun . The Australian prime minister, John Howard, said that the reality of homosexual liaisons did not mean that same sex couples should be granted the right to marriage. He went on to say that the institution of marriage should be protected.

He said that the continuity of our society depended on there being a margin around things like that, around marriage. He added that many people, he being one, saw marriage as one of the bedrock institutions of our society.

The Vatican recently stated that the impact on the family needed to be one of the prime considerations in all political action. There is not a major religion on the face of the globe that does not value the role of family in our society today.

I have made no secret of my personal belief that the family is central to the well-being of our society. I also feel that one of the central pillars underpinning the family is marriage and marriage, by definition and by law, is the union of a man and a woman. Because of that, I cannot support the hon. member's bill.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East.

It was just over a year and a half ago that we celebrated in my riding the passage of the historic Bill C-23. It was an amazing step in terms of the equality of our gay and lesbian couples, in terms of their common law relationships and being treated the same as heterosexual couples.

It is important now that the member for Burnaby--Douglas has brought to the House the final step in achieving ultimate equality for these couples. It is clear that couples who would like to formalize their relationship would like the state and their religious faith to recognize that commitment.

Our country will only ever be as strong as the individual family units that have decided that they will look after one another. It is extraordinarily important that these units are recognized and have the full right of other couples. To have any less a relationship speaks against the diversity that we welcome in this country. We must move beyond tolerance and into the respect and the true equality that is beyond the kind of discrimination that prevents these couples from marriage.

There are times for parliament to lead and this is one of them. To be spend time and money in the courts when the Canadian public is way ahead of us on this is a shame. It is truly an important time and it is disappointing that the bill is non-votable because some of the small concerns around the bill could have been very easily sorted out in committee.

It is important that we move forward in addressing this discrimination. I, together with the member for Toronto Centre--Rosedale, support the member for Burnaby--Douglas, EGALE and all the people who have worked so hard to achieve this final step in true equality for all Canadians.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas for bringing forward this issue. It is an historic day because we are debating in the House of Commons the issue of same sex marriage.

I recognize the outstanding, tireless and very passionate efforts of my colleague from Burnaby--Douglas. He has been an advocate for all human rights as well as equality for gays and lesbians in Canada and around the world for many years. His work in bringing this issue forward today so we can debate the bill and hopefully move forward is something that is very important.

I listened carefully to the debate in the House. It was disturbing to hear some of the members who spoke in opposition to the bill because the reasons and excuses they came up with were simply indefensible. At the end of the day it comes down to this: we either have equality in the country or we do not. We cannot have half equality.

Bill C-23 was a good piece of legislation in as far as it went. It did not really deal with the issue of equality in terms of marriage. Therefore I feel very strongly about the importance of the bill. We heard arguments that too many laws would have to be changed and that somehow we could not do anything because Canada was based on common law. These were all weak excuses that really did not deal with the fundamental issue before us: equality for gays and lesbians.

I was involved with Bruce Eriksen for 24 years in a common law relationship. During the course of that relationship I never opposed or denied the right of heterosexual couples to have the choice to marry. I am now involved in a same sex relationship. I do not deny or oppose anyone's choice either to be involved in a common law relationship or a relationship that is affirmed by marriage. That is really what the debate is about today.

We must be careful that we do not go down the road of hypocrisy. We heard members say that they do not support discrimination against gays and lesbians. If that is correct we must be true to what the charter says. One of the unfortunate things is that so much legislation comes about because of litigation, forcing people through the courts.

It would be preferable if parliament, as the federal body in the country that has the leadership and mandate to deal with issues like this, would send a clear signal that equality includes the right of gays and lesbians to marry if they so choose.

I hope there are other members of the House who will put aside their prejudice and discrimination and will recognize that if they support the charter and equality then they will support the bill. They will make sure people are not forced into incredible litigation when it is an issue that should be decided by the House of Commons.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for St. John's East on his speech because he captured the feelings of many of us who are opposed to the legislation perfectly.

I would like to correct an impression conveyed by some of those supporting the legislation. It is true that the majority of Canadians support equal benefits to dependent couples, be they dependent couples in a same sex, heterosexual or family relationship. However the majority of Canadians do not support the idea of same sex marriage and there are some very good reasons for this.

I really do not like to be tarred with the brush of being discriminatory because I do not agree with the bill. I believe that we must provide equality to all Canadians in dependent relationships. The concept of marriage goes back several thousand years and it is intimately connected with religion, not just Christianity but other religions. The religious institution of marriage preceded the civil institution of marriage. We do a great disrespect to religion when civil society takes what was originally a religious concept and turn it to its own ends.

Even as a civil institution, I have difficulty with the idea of marriage as a same sex relationship because it could affect the rights of children. I believe that when all things are absolutely even we should regard children as being better off with a heterosexual parental relationship rather than a same sex parental relationship.

This is not to say that we cannot have same sex parents who are very good just as we can have heterosexual parents who are very bad. The natural order of things is that we would assume until there is real proof to the contrary that children are better off, all other things being equal, with heterosexual parents. Until we can prove otherwise we have to allow for the rights of children before the rights of adults.

That is all I have to say on the subject. I believe that the member who introduced the bill believes in what he is intending. I took very much to heart his idea of the romantic concept of the same sex relationship, but in the end we have to set aside our desires for absolute equality as adults and defer to the absolute rights of children.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, there are two points that I would like to make with regard to this issue. It has been mentioned that parliament ought to be leading the courts and not the other way around and that parliament should not wait until it gets direction from the courts. I agree wholeheartedly.

Since I was elected in 1993 the House of Commons has dealt with this issue on a number of occasions. I remember the first time when the member for Hochelaga--Maisonneuve brought in a motion to bring in benefits for same sex partners. I recall that only 10 Liberals voted for it at that time. We have spoken many times on what Canadian society wants when it comes to the sanctity of marriage.

It has been stated that this in no way demeans heterosexual marriage. I contend that it does. Not long ago the House of Commons asked me to fill out a form indicating who I would like to have as my travelling partner because it pays for a travelling partner.

This is demeaning to my wife to whom I have been married for 40 years. She has never worked in an employed position so she has been dependent on me not only for income but for providing for the family and for providing for our retirement. She has worked very hard. I would venture to say, though not being paid, she has probably worked harder than I have. She is a wonderful mother and grandmother and now she is reduced to being a travelling partner.

The legislation does have an effect and I resent that. She is my wife, my dearly beloved, and I hope that we have another 20 or 30 years together as is the habit in our family.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will start with the comment by the member for Elk Island who spoke about his relationship with his wife of over 40 years. He felt somehow that relationship was being demeaned by the fact that he designated her as his travelling companion. Let us be clear about why the House of Commons moved in that important area.

I would have loved it if the spouses, companions and partners of those of us who are gay and lesbian in the House were recognized equally. It is precisely because the House was not prepared to extend full and open recognition to our partners that we must designate a traveller. Why should my partner not be treated equally with respect to the rights to travel as the wife of the member for Elk Island? Why should it be any different at all?

With respect to the Liberal member who spoke just before the member for Elk Island, he suggested that the right of a child to be raised in a nurturing and loving environment was the most important issue. He said very clearly that gay and lesbian families were not in a position to do that as effectively as heterosexual families. That is simply false. A number of studies have indicated that children raised in loving gay or lesbian families are well adjusted. In fact those families are just as strong, nurturing and loving as heterosexual families.

It is insulting to gay and lesbian families and partners who are raising children to suggest that they are not just as able to raise kids in loving environments as heterosexual families.

I wish to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Joliette, who spoke on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, not only for his support of this bill, which recognizes the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, but also for his work for equality, for close to 20 years now I believe, within the labour movement and elsewhere.

As I have said, the hon. member for Hochelaga--Maisonneuve has also done an excellent job.

I thank the member for St. Paul's for her support not only today but consistently for equality for gay and lesbian people, along with the member for Toronto Centre--Rosedale who has also seconded the bill. I thank my colleague and friend from Vancouver East for her support and for her courage in speaking out so eloquently and so personally today on this important piece of legislation.

I hope that members of the House will recognize the right of equality. I wish to read from an affidavit that was submitted in the court proceedings for equal marriage rights by Lloyd Thornhill and Robert Peacock, who have been together for 32 years. Bob said:

I met my spouse, Lloyd Thornhill, in 1968. From the beginning, I believed that God destined us to be together. We have been together in a monogamous, loving relationship for the past 32 years. If we could have married years ago, we would have. We have always supported and relied on each other. When one of us is down, the other is always there to bring him back up. Years ago, we exchanged rings as a symbol of our love and commitment and have never taken them off, except on one occasion when we exchanged our initial set of rings for a new set. Being able to legally marry now would simply allow us to gain legal recognition of the reality of our relationship. Denying us the right to marry sends a message that our relationship is less deserving of recognition just because we are gay. I believe that Lloyd and I deserve to be able to legally marry, as heterosexual couples do, and to be recognized as a family unit.

Thirty-two years seems like an awfully long time to be engaged. I appeal to members of the House today to support the principle of the legislation for Lloyd and Bob, and for all the gay and lesbian couples across the country who want the right to equality and the right to make a choice.

I seek unanimous consent of the House to send the subject matter of the bill to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights where it can be studied, strengthened and hopefully passed by the House so that a clear signal could be sent indicating that gay and lesbian people are fully equal in Canadian society.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

No.

Marriage Capacity Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Supply
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

moved

That this House call upon the government to review its international aid policy with a view to substantially increasing the funds available for Canadian humanitarian aid, particularly in the context of the military interventions in Afghanistan, and to increasing the level of its aid for development to 0.7% of GDP, as recommended by the United Nations.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the Chair that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Mercier.

We are at war. That is our reality. In light of this situation, many things are going on at the present time. A military campaign is under way. It is very important--urgent even--to think of what will happen after the retaliation. We need to ask ourselves not only what must be done now, but also what must be done in the future. As well, we need to ask ourselves why the events of September 11 occurred. What is the root of this evil?

We need to understand that many things have changed since September 11. People's mentalities have changed as well, I believe. We have realized that the world is far smaller than we thought. I have often discussed globalization and the distribution of the world's wealth. Where terrorism is concerned, I believe it is essential to ask ourselves whether there is a link between it and poverty. Most analysts, I believe, will confirm that there certainly is. It is not the entire explanation, but there is certainly a connection.

When some peoples are unable to provide for their basic needs, when they do not have a life allowing them to attain their full potential and when they do not have access to security but at the same time witness the wealth of northern countries, this can bring about jealousy, hatred and interrogations.

If I was an Afghan today and I saw what is going on in northern countries, it is likely that, like people do in those countries, I would ask myself why I do not have access to the same kind of liberty, the same kind of life.

First of all, when we look at the precarious situation which prevails in several countries around the world, it would be normal to feel compassion. Compassion is this very human feeling which makes us realize that living conditions in those countries make no sense. I ask those who are against such questioning to rise. I believe it makes no sense.

Since September 11, we can no longer base our reflection solely on compassion. It may be sad to say, but if we look at the issue in an egoistic way, we realized on September 11 that the misfortune of others could also have an impact on us. As Nelson Mandela said, “Security for a few is insecurity for all”. There were many people who believed, before September 11, that the poverty of others was the problem of others.

We can no longer think that way today. I believe the events of September 11 have contributed to promote globalization, eliminate distances in our world and make us realize that we truly live in a global village and that more than never before the problems of other countries are our own problems. Those events will at least have done one thing, that is to question the whole process of international co-operation, all the co-operation northern countries lend the rest of the world.

This is why we believe that poverty, misery and anger are certainly a good breeding ground for future terrorists. This is why we think it is necessary not only to reflect on Canada's aid to other countries but also to ask ourselves whether Canada is really doing its share to deal with the current crisis. Of course, I am still speaking in the context of international co-operation.

There is a major crisis, at present. The bombings and the military intervention have parallel consequences in that they create thousands of refugees for whom food and shelter will become even more of a problem as winter rolls in.

It is essential to examine this issue and to find solutions. And if we want to talk about a new regime to replace the Taliban regime, then we must also consider the economic and geopolitical aspects for that entire region. When talking about reconstruction, we must keep that in mind.

This is why the Bloc Quebecois is proposing this votable motion today, which reads as follows:

That this House call upon the government to review its international aid policy with a view to substantially increasing the funds available for Canadian humanitarian aid, particularly in the context of the military interventions in Afghanistan, and to increasing the level of its aid for development to 0.7% of GDP, as recommended by the United Nations.

It was agreed in 1969 that all countries would put 0.7% of their GDP into international aid. This target was set by an independent commission working under the aegis of the World Bank. The mandate of the commission was to analyse the effects of 20 years of international aid and the various possible perspectives. It was chaired by Lester B. Pearson, who was then Canada's ambassador to the United Nations.

Since then, if we look at the situation compared to this international aid objective, we see that Canada ranks 17 out of 22 donating countries. It is no secret to anyone here that Canada has always boasted about being a very compassionate country. Everyone recognizes the work of peacekeepers. Canadians and Quebecers are proud of this reputation. They are proud of these peaceful international missions.

However, words have to be matched by deeds. With Canada ranking 17, we should ask ourselves some questions, particularly since other countries have reached this objective of 0.7% of GDP.

I have here figures that show that Luxembourg has reached this objective of 0.7%. Norway has even exceeded it, since it is at 0.8% of its GDP. Sweden is at 0.81%. The Netherlands are at 0.82%, while Denmark is at 1.06%. This is definitely not an objective that is impossible to achieve, since countries smaller than Canada have reached these percentages.

But this is not the only thing that must be done. I believe we also have to do some serious thinking. It should have occurred before September 11, but now that everyone feels more involved, all of us on this planet must stop and ask ourselves how we can turn international aid into something effective, something that will have a positive impact. Will this be achieved merely by increasing financial assistance? I do not think so.

I believe there are other solutions. We should consider forgiving the debt of third world countries, for instance. There is also the type of aid to be provided. Is the aid provided through CIDA effective? Are we investing enough money in education? Should we invest more in basic needs?

We have a long way to go. I do not think that a day like today will solve all the problems, but the Bloc Quebecois should be commended for raising this issue. I hope that greater priority will be given to it. Many questions have to be asked, and much needs to be done, and it is from this perspective that we presented this motion today.