House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was marriage.

Topics

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-38, the civil marriage act. For many in the House, including me, the decision we must make on this legislation is one of the most difficult that we have been called upon to make as members of Parliament, namely, to support or oppose same sex marriage.

As we are all aware, on December 9, 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to decide who has the right to get married in our country, while making an appropriate qualification that religious groups or clergy are not obliged to perform same sex unions against their beliefs, a very key exception.

The court's advice will assist parliamentarians in their deliberations; however, most important, it does not undermine the democratic role of Parliament. Parliamentarians in the House of Commons will make the final decision on the issue of extending civil marriage to same sex couples. Whether one is for or against same sex marriage, the decision will be made in a democratic way through full and transparent public deliberations followed by a free vote.

Over the past decade there have been several federal legislative changes to ensure legal rights on the basis of sexual orientation. These were emotionally charged debates as well. I supported every one of those initiatives and voted in favour of the legislation which enacted them.

In 1996 Bill C-41 amended Criminal Code sentencing provisions, setting out an aggravating sentencing factor for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on listed personal characteristics, including sexual orientation. That is section 718.2 of the Criminal Code. Parliament also enacted the act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, which added “sexual orientation” to the CHRA's prohibited grounds of discrimination.

In 1999 Parliament adopted the first federal legislation to provide explicitly for same sex benefits. The Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act replaced opposite sex surviving spouse entitlement to benefits with gender neutral survivor entitlement in the major public service pension statutes. A survivor is one who establishes that he or she was cohabiting in a relationship of a conjugal nature with the contributor for at least a year preceding the latter's death.

In 2000 the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act was adopted. It amended 68 federal statutes to effect their equal application to unmarried heterosexual and same sex couples. The legislation adds the gender neutral designations “common law partner” and/or “survivor” to those statutes and restricts the term “spouse” to married couples. It is interesting to note however that the government added an interpretive amendment stating:

For greater certainty, the amendments made by this Act do not affect the meaning of the word “marriage”, that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

In 2002 immigration and refugee protection regulations under the 2001 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act authorized family class sponsorship for same sex couples under two new eligible gender neutral categories: a common law partner of a sponsor must fulfill a cohabitation requirement, while a sponsor's conjugal partner need not. In each case, the couple's conjugal relationship must be of at least one year's duration.

Since 1993 the government and I as a member in the House have taken very seriously the responsibility of protecting the rights of all our residents.

Canadians will not tolerate harassment of homosexuals or discrimination against same sex couples. At the same time many Canadians have difficulty, in good conscience, of accepting same sex marriage. Some have suggested the sanctioning of same sex civil unions, registered domestic partnerships or life partnerships which are equivalent to common law unions between heterosexual couples. I agree with this approach. Critics feel it falls short of true equity. By working with the provinces I do not believe it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate equality issues around same sex partners.

The common law definition of marriage was until recently undisputed as the union of two persons of the opposite sex, the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Indeed this very House considered and supported a motion on June 8, 1999 which stated:

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

That motion passed 216 to 55. I supported it then and I support that position today.

Indeed, over the years our courts have supported this position, as was confirmed when former Supreme Court Justice LaForest speaking for the majority in the Egan case stated:

Marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of long-standing philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'être transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realties that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.

It is interesting to note that this pronouncement of the Supreme Court was made in 1991, 10 years after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Some of us have advocated a compromise position that would draw together those on the one side who assert that any restriction on same sex marriage is discriminatory and a violation of human rights with those on the other side who assert that any recognition of homosexual relationships is intolerable. I firmly believe that most Canadians are most comfortable with a middle position recognizing the traditional and distinct definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, while recognizing that same sex couples should be entitled to all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage, but that it should not be called marriage.

Opponents to this compromise position claim that anything less than full equality would continue a systemic discrimination of the homosexual community. I recall very clearly receiving this admonition from one of my constituents in the Township of Wainfleet. The thought of such an unintended consequence lingers in my mind and contributes to the difficulty of my decision.

I also recall a presentation on same sex marriages to the justice committee in rural New Brunswick when a United Church minister made an effective intervention in support of gay marriage with his desire to some day perform a marriage for his gay son and his partner. This presentation was in stark contrast to many other interventions from religious groups and made it abundantly clear that even the religious community is divided on this issue.

Most members in the House have received literally thousands of interventions on this issue, including conversations, telephone calls, e-mails and letters. I have been approached by constituents in coffee shops and churches, in the street and in stadiums, at community dinners and in restaurants. Many people who would ordinarily not come forward in these public areas have not hesitated to give me their views.

A tabulation of the positions of my constituents in Welland riding who have contacted me on this issue oppose this legislation as proposed on a 10:1 ratio. When asked their opinion on the middle ground, most would agree with it.

The stark reality of the same sex marriage debate is that today seven provinces and one territory have recognized the lawful union of two people of the same sex. It is already the law of those jurisdictions. For all intents and purposes the definition of marriage has been changed. This legislation will give it national application.

The real debate now must centre on whether the federal government should invoke the notwithstanding clause. My position is yes.

The courts see the issue as a rights issue, a charter issue, that it is the right of gay persons to be married. I see it as a social policy issue. My opposition centres around one word, marriage, when applied to gay unions.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the many constituents who have contacted me on both sides of this issue. They have contributed to the consideration and debate. Some do not appreciate the position I have taken but we have agreed to differ with mutual respect. That is the Canadian way.

However, if this legislation is to pass, there must be a healing period for Canadians to adjust to a new reality of civil marriage. The government's legislation affirms the charter guarantee of religious freedom, that religious officials are free to perform or not to perform marriage ceremonies in accordance with the beliefs of their faith. The response to the reference by the Supreme Court of Canada has made it patently clear that section 2(a) of the charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

As a consequence and in the words of the Prime Minister, “no church, no synagogue, no mosque, no temple, in no religious house will those who disagree with same sex unions be compelled to perform them”.

I have heard people express concerns that religious freedoms may be eroded even with assurances to the contrary. However, I want to point out that religious protections already in some cases take priority over other charter rights. the Catholic Church continues to refuse the ordination of women in a post-charter world. Many churches already refuse to marry people, particularly those who are divorced. I have yet to hear of any charter challenges on any of the foregoing. The assurances of religious views by the Supreme Court are very sound.

Many Canadians are struggling with this complex and difficult issue as I did. We are talking about changing one of the central and longstanding institutions of society. It is something that will bring out strong feelings on all sides. Notwithstanding, Canadians are tolerant and will respect a balanced and reasoned debate and further, when the decision is finally made will respect that decision. I appreciate the points of those who do not agree with me and hope that they can respect mine.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

March 21st, 2005 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, this issue has moved Canadians to action and to become involved, reinvigorated as active members of the Canadian democratic process. I have had interventions from several thousand of my constituents, more so than on any other piece of legislation, even Bill C-68, and we know how controversial that has been and how many people have come to the fore on that. Several thousand of my constituents have told me that they are also against the purpose of this bill. They also wonder why we should be occupied by this matter rather than the more pressing issues that affect millions rather than a few hundred Canadians.

It reflects the nature of our modern age, perhaps even the corruption of our legal system, that a very vocal minority can put their issue on a national platform even when the vast majority of Canadians have better things to do. And they still claim they have no voice.

I know the Prime Minister will feign outrage at this, but we are pretty tired of his phony moral stances over here. It has taken him only a few years to run completely from poll to poll, from one side of an issue to the other. He has now exhausted every position he can hold on every issue. He has nowhere left to run.

Speakers on all sides of the House have articulated the background to the introduction of Bill C-38, but not everyone has been playing with a full deck of facts. The former justice minister said in the House that the traditional definition of marriage was safe and secure and that the Liberals had no intention of changing anything. Not that long ago, like every Liberal promise, those words disappeared after the election.

Despite voting to take every action necessary to protect our foundational institution, those same Liberals stood by while junior court after junior court defied the Supreme Court and Parliament and thousands of years of history to claim they have discovered words in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are not actually there at all.

The Prime Minister claims to hold the charter sacred while he lets judicial activists distort this document into radical new shapes. He says nothing while judges claim they find words where none exist. This is not progressive. This is radical and there is always a danger to the overall common good when a few radicals hijack a national document and use it to push their own agenda.

A few of my colleagues in the House circulated a letter in which they claimed no one was behind the push for same sex marriage. It just sort of sprang up from the ground. We are not sure how it came about. The radicals we are concerned with are a group that wants to overthrow the institution of marriage because it does not conform to their social view. But they are not the only radicals at work. Greater conflicts are coming. When a democratic government participates in the breakdown of its own foundations, it cannot know where that process will end and neither can the radicals who are pursuing this narrow agenda.

The Prime Minister said that this bill is about minority rights. He is wrong. The Supreme Court has said that he has a choice to legislate on marriage because the definition is up to Parliament. It did not say he had the right to establish or create a right for marriage. No one has a right to get married. When we believe we have found a mate that we want to spend the rest of our lives with, there are a number of options. Some will shack up, as the saying goes, and not care about government or parental approval. Some will seek government approval after a time and get benefits and pension rights. That option is open to everyone now.

Some will enter into what they hope is a lifetime commitment. They will look at the list of prohibitions contained in the marriage act and finding they qualify, will get a licence and undergo a solemnization ceremony at city hall or in a church. They will promise to stay together for life and raise their children in a loving household. Not everybody makes it through their whole lifetime, but no one regards divorced individuals as second class citizens which is one of the spurious complaints of these radicals.

If I had a right to be married, I could ignore the rules set out in the marriage act, ignore any rules of solemnization in my province and certainly reject any fees they try to charge me for that process. If I had a right to get married, I would tell the clerk that I am not paying for the licence because it is my right. What about divorce? My wife can never divorce me because that would contravene my right to be married. That is how spurious this is.

Many people are miserable after divorce and it is not because they lose half their income. If the government shared the court's preoccupation with people's feelings and dignity and actually believed it was guaranteeing rights, surely it would bring in legislation to force people to stay together, or maybe provide a spouse to anyone who still wanted to exercise his or her right to be married. It is a lot of nonsense of course.

Society, not courts or governments, created the institution of marriage to provide security to men and women in a relationship they could both understand and count on and to create a unit that nurtures and protects vulnerable children as they grow and learn about their heritage. We know this breaks down often in our society and it is tragic when it does, but people do cope. Children can be and are raised in a variety of environments and turn out well. We are not talking about what everyone must do, but about what society has come to understand as to what is best for the most people most of the time.

The radicals would have us believe that because the guidelines do not include every possibility, they are flawed and must be rewritten. They have obviously convinced the Liberal cabinet, apparently, in the last few months that by rewriting the rules of society, all will be happy and we will not have to rewrite any more.

It is ironic that the Prime Minister now wants to paint himself as the great defender of minorities. We know the gun registry is an onerous document that targets a law abiding minority in this country. We know that Bill C-68, as written, tramples on at least a dozen rights from the Constitution and, as it is clumsily applied, violates a dozen or so more. So far, no Prime Minister has stood up for this minority.

We have had language laws imposed in this country that the United Nations has recognized as illegitimate, but not one Prime Minister has seen fit to help minorities where votes are at stake. So much for fundamental rights.

Our primary food producers are abused by trade disputes, hammered by unreasonable restrictions and taxed off their land. Their crops are seized and sold, and they get nickels back while somebody else makes millions.

There is the ongoing case of single income families that the Supreme Court admitted are discriminated against, but apparently they do not have much of a lobby over there. There is not a single Liberal standing up for their rights.

The whole process is pretty selective and clearly more about what is fashionable than what is right. The methods used by selfish radicals and their Liberal allies to manipulate discussion are reprehensible. Just because we say it is about minority rights does not make it so, especially when the rhetoric can never match these actions.

The Liberals claim to stand for a repressed minority, but this minority, which is really a small part of a minority, seems to have access to government and courts that most Canadians cannot even dream of. I have heard some Canadians say that we should just throw in the towel and give in whenever someone makes enough noise. Often they reflect a level of frustration about the lack of control they feel in the political process. Sometimes they are apathetic and do not realize that what is at stake is more than marriage and more than the demands of one politicized section of one minority.

To give up would be a mistake for two reasons. What the Liberals are pushing here is illegitimate and giving in will only make things worse, paving the way for more demands for so-called rights. They are prepared to let a few activist judges not interpret the Constitution but to continuously remake it without any input from the people who have to live with those consequences.

Canadians who let the government get away with that are guilty of putting their future into the hands of a smaller and smaller group of radicals whose demands we cannot imagine at this time.

What about marriage itself? Some people say, since they will still be married afterwards, what is the big deal? The same sort of dismissal greeted the change in divorce laws, and probably the insanity and lack of debate that passed for abortion laws in this country. The fact is, when a group manages to alter an institution that affects all of society, then many other changes creep in, whether we object to later consequences or not.

We are not talking about changing marriage here. We are talking about changing society. Professor Thomas Sowell points out that marriage is not an institution that grants rights. On the contrary, it imposes responsibilities. He writes:

Marriage laws have evolved through centuries of experience with couples of opposite sexes--and the children that result from such unions. Society asserts its stake in the decisions made by restricting the couples' options.

Society does not tell individuals what to do; it only provides a framework to carry on that society for posterity. It is ironic that the radicals would invite the government into their bedrooms to take away their rights under the guise of claiming new rights for themselves.

Journalist John McKellar, who founded HOPE, Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism, reports that the January 2001 same sex wedding in Toronto was an embarrassment for most gay communities, not a triumph. He said, “Better to stay at home and clean out the fridge when your public image is so embarrassingly represented with such maudlin specimens of martyrdom”.

What Mr. McKellar objects to and what every thinking Canadian should object to is the Liberal's knee-jerk reaction to every claim of discrimination and hurt feelings. He also said, “This is no time for the modern, feel good, pop culture mentality that stands behind C-38”.

He counts himself among the happy, successful and independent gays and lesbians who do not wake up every day finding hate, bigotry and discrimination under the bed, and go running to the courts, governments and human rights commissions for a lifetime of therapeutic preferences.

McKellar is describing the heart of what is so objectionable about Bill C-38 and, of course, last year's Bill C-250, for that matter. There is a disturbing trend today to bend the purposes of society and democracy to the will of the few with the hope of making one group feel good about itself. In the meantime, everyone else's right to free speech and opinion, everyone else's right to a dependable social order, and everyone else's right to enjoyment of property is trampled in the misguided rush to satisfy the perceived feelings of a minority of a minority.

In closing, I have always personally supported the traditional definition of marriage. I will continue to support and fight for the rights and freedoms of all Canadians to order their lives as they see fit, and I unequivocally reject the false assertions in Bill C-38.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to take part in the historic debate on Bill C-38, an issue that, to a certain degree, has polarized our nation.

Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, has evoked many emotions. I understand the sensitivity and complexity of the issue. Therefore, I will base my position in such a fashion that it will be respectful to all the parties involved.

However, let me be crystal clear that I support Bill C-38 based on the premise that it is a charter issue; an issue that protects freedom of religion and also extends civil liberties under the equality provision of the charter.

Let me begin by addressing the role of religion in this debate. We live in a secular society where the state and religious institutions are separated. What makes Canada unique and the envy of the world is that we recognize the importance and the significance of religion that is reflected in our charter and is codified in section 2(a). The Supreme Court has declared unanimously:

The guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about my personal experiences with religion, specifically the Sikh faith.

As a proud Canadian born in Toronto and raised in Mississauga—Brampton South, I grew up in an environment where I never fit the status quo. At a young age I decided to keep my hair and recall the moral support provided by my school teachers. I remember playing soccer and feeling mortified because I was the only one with a turban. I thought my turban was going to fall off when I headed the soccer ball, but the coach always went out of her way to make me feel part of the team.

I remember the first time I wore my distar, also known as the turban, to high school and recall the compliments I received from my classmates. I also remember taking amrit in university, and being praised by my professors and the student body for making an outward commitment to practise my faith.

I share these experiences because it tells a story of a Canadian growing up in Canada during a time period when the charter was part of the Constitution. It is this charter that enabled me and so many others to follow our faith, and form an identity that today I can say with a great deal of pride is a strong part of the Canadian mosaic and fabric.

One would ask what the charter has to do with me practising my faith. Let me share one small example. I remember I was in high school and Mr. Dhillon was going through much undue hardship for wearing a turban and wanting to join the RCMP. I recall that Sikhs at that time came together and looked to the charter to protect their identity and, may I add, an identity that did not conform to traditional norms.

I also recall when the courts decided that Mr. Dhillon was allowed to wear his turban as an RCMP officer. At that moment, I was not only proud to be a Sikh but I was proud to be a Canadian, and live in a country where I was treated as an equal member of society, knowing full well that if my beliefs were ever challenged, I would have the charter to protect my rights.

Therefore, based on my experiences and historical decisions by the courts, I have full faith that the charter has demonstrated time and time again the importance of protecting religious freedoms.

The second component of the bill examines the enforcement of subsection 15(1), which indicates that everyone is equal before the law. The issue of equality under the law in Canada has been a constant struggle ever since Confederation. There are many examples of individuals and minority groups that have been regarded as citizens not fully worthy of equality under the law.

For example, women's groups had to fight relentlessly for the right to vote ever since they were excluded from voting at the time of Confederation. The first province to allow women to vote was Manitoba in 1916. It took two more years before women had the same right as men to vote in a federal election. Just imagine a society where women were not viewed as equal under the law. I cannot.

Aboriginal people were also excluded from the right to vote without condition until 1960. Technically they had the right to vote but only if they gave up their treaty rights and Indian status through a process that was defined as the Indian Act.

Today some have suggested the government extend gay and lesbian rights to civil unions. This would give some same sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal but not as equal as the rest of us Canadians.

The courts have clearly and consistently ruled that this option would offend the equality provisions of the charter. For instance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal stated:

Marriage is the only road to true equality for same sex couples. Any other form of recognition of same sex relationships fall short of true equality.

We have three options here today: we could conduct a national referendum, we could use the notwithstanding clause, or we can uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Liberal Party, including myself, has been clear that we will not let the majority decide the right of minorities. We will not take away their rights, but we will extend civil liberties.

The issue today is not of civil marriage. The debate here today is not whether to change the definition of marriage. It is being changed in seven provinces and one territory. The issue is something much greater than that, the charter. I am a byproduct of the charter and live in a country where everyone is treated the same and where individual freedom is the cornerstone of our society.

I am reminded of a former Prime Minister who stated:

The Liberal philosophy places a highest value on the freedom of the individual, and the first consequence of freedom is change. A Liberal can seldom be part of the status quo.

It was the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau who made this statement over 30 years ago. I understand today, in the 21st century, we are confronted with a major consequence of freedom, change. As the former Prime Minister indicated, a Liberal can seldom be part of the status quo. Therefore, I stand here today to fight for freedom and respect change.

In closing, based on the fact that the issue today is to defend the charter, make no mistake about it. I will do everything in my capacity as an elected official to uphold the principles and the values laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Kildonan—St. Paul I will be voting against the Liberal Bill C-38.

The bill was introduced by the Liberal government for the sole purpose of redefining marriage. My constituents in Kildonan—St. Paul have told me, by way of over 14,000 faxes, e-mails and feedback sheets I sent out, that the definition of marriage should remain between a man and a woman, excluding all others. These responses have come from people from all walks of life, all religions and all cultures.

Out of all these factions there have been only 20 constituents who differed in that opinion in this matter. Never in the history of Kildonan—St. Paul have the people responded so clearly, so vigorously and in such a concerned way.

As their elected representative, I have heard their concerns and I stand in the House of Commons today to voice my concerns on their behalf. I ask the government, why, after defending the definition of marriage just a few short months ago, did it flip-flop and bring forth a bill that the majority of Canadians did not want? Why did the Prime Minister refuse to hold a referendum on the issue? Why did he refuse to go to the Canadian public and hear their concerns?

In 1999 the Prime Minister promised to use all necessary means to defend the traditional definition of marriage. That was only five years ago. The Prime Minister is in his latter sixties. He has believed in this concept for approximately seven decades. This is a curious time in life for anyone to change his or her mind on such a critical social issue as redefining the definition of marriage. What is the motivation for this? I believe Canadians need an answer to the question.

The Liberal government was elected because the Canadian public remembered what the Prime Minister said in 1999. They believed him. At the same the current Deputy Prime Minister also stated that the government had no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages. How can the Canadian public trust the government?

Before the last election there was not a word of this to the public. Clearly the government was elected under false pretences. Again, I ask the question, what the government's motive is for this? Why is it being pushed through without going to the Canadian public first? Does it take the public eye away from the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery commission? I would say, indeed it does.

A well known political trick is to bring forth legislation that diverts the public's eyes from the ongoing daily stories coming from any other controversial issue about which the government is not keen on having the public hear. It is a diversion tactic with a far-reaching impact on the Canadian public. The findings from these hearings have been virtually pushed back in the public media and Bill C-38 has taken over the story of the day. The government has succeeded in what it is trying to do. It is a shame because the ongoing sponsorship scandal has proven to be even worse than we first thought. The story will come out.

Canadians are beginning to see that there is a difference between the current Liberal government and its opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservative Party of Canada believes in a democratic society and the right of every individual to have choices. The Conservative Party believes that each individual has the right to choose what lifestyle that individual wants with all the equivalent rights and benefits that go along with it. The Conservative Party of Canada believes each individual has the right to choose a religion or not choose a religion. The Conservative Party of Canada believes each individual has the right to freedom of speech and respects the rights of all people.

The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has taken a responsible, compromise position which is in accord with the views of the vast majority of Canadians. The option to retain the traditional definition of marriage along with the legal recognition of same sex partnerships with equivalent rights and benefits represents the middle ground position that allows for democracy to grow and flourish in our great nation. This issue is an important matter of social society on which Parliament should have the final say because parliamentarians are mandated to reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Since the changing of the definition of marriage is a matter of personal conscience, all Conservative Party members will have a free vote on this question. The courts have never ruled on legislation of the type we propose, which would ensure equal rights and privileges for same sex partners while affording the traditional definition of marriage. This is not only a moderate position, but a reflection of the democratic society Canadians have enjoyed over the decades. It is a moderate position, one that is supported by citizens across our nation.

There is nothing moderate or reasoned or democratic about the Liberal position. The definition of marriage is a question of social policy as opposed to a rights issue and, as such, is a matter for Parliament to decide. We do not believe that supporting the traditional definition of marriage is an infringement on anyone's rights. If we legislate the traditional definition of marriage along with equal rights and benefits for same sex partnerships it is a reasonable compromise. The Prime Minister does not get to decide if same sex marriage is a fundamental right. The Canadian people decide.

The Supreme Court has refused to answer whether the definition of marriage is constitutional. In doing so, the court has decided that this is a matter for Parliament, which represents the Canadian people, to decide.

No wonder the current Prime Minister is confused. He has so many irons in the fire and so many fires to put out that he neglects the issues of health care, crime and taxation and seems to be driven to distraction. Clearly his need to travel the world and seek out photo ops has garnered him the opportunity not to face questions in question period.

In past Canadian history the law usually reflected the social consensus within our society. Since the last election, the agenda has changed. The law is being used now as an instrument for social engineering by the Liberal government. The government has presented a bill that has no protections for religious freedoms in relation to income tax and charitable status, even though the Prime Minister has promised to protect religious freedom.

The Prime Minister is using the law now as an instrument for social engineering. He knows very well that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled already that the provision in the draft legislation pertaining to the rights of religious officials to refuse to perform marriages is outside the jurisdiction of the federal Parliament.

Until now there has been no federal statute defining marriage, democratically passed by Parliament, for the courts to deal with. Therefore, all the decisions that have taken place have been in a legislative vacuum. By filling the legislative vacuum, we would be providing Parliament's guidance to the courts about this matter of social policy.

The Prime Minister will not hold a referendum. Calls for a referendum stem from the feeling Canadians have been left out of this debate. The Supreme Court has left the matter for Parliament to decide. The majority of the Liberal members of Parliament are voting against the traditional definition of marriage and are supporting Bill C-38.

On our side of the House, we are allowed a free vote so we can vote according to the wishes of our constituents and according to our consciences. Unlike members opposite, our leader firmly believes in the democratic process and in the right of the individual to choose. Democracy is all about that. This is Canada.

I will be voting against Bill C-38.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this important bill, the civil marriage act, here in Parliament where so many other historic debates have taken place in years past.

Many members have spoken about how difficult this decision has been for them and how much difficulty they have had during this process of discussion. This debate has occurred in many places, in our communities, our churches and our families. Now it takes place where it should, in Parliament, where legislation is subjected to its most legitimate and democratic test.

I was asked recently if I wished that the legislation, as emotional as it is, could have been avoided, and I said no. We do not stand for election to this historic and important place in order to make easy decisions, but to debate and decide those that most matter to Canadians. We come to this place to discuss difficult issues, to debate the merits, to make decisions and to make law.

In my view this is a law whose time has come. I am pleased to tell members why I feel this way, as I have discussed this with my constituents back home. For me, the discussion revolves around two basic principles. The first is the issue of justice and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The second is an issue of personal faith.

First, our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is something of which Canadians are justifiably proud. It guarantees that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. I believe this bill follows that principle. I believe anything less than the right to marriage and the right to use the name marriage would be unlawful and would be unjust.

I also believe that it is right to protect religious freedoms and the bill clearly does that. How much clearer can it get than clause 3 of the act where it says:

It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

I cannot imagine why that would be anything but clear in its protection of the rights of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to choose whether or not to sanctify marriage. As well, the Supreme Court of Canada has indicated very clearly that Parliament must create uniformity of law across the country. This follows the precedent of eight other jurisdictions in Canada that provide equal access by same sex couples to civil marriage.

From the point of view of justice and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the answer is clear. This is a law whose time has come. I support the legislation because I think it is right and because it is both just and moral. It is consistent with both the Charter of Rights and with my own personal faith.

That is not to say that the issue has been without difficulty. Many people whom I respect greatly oppose my view, some in particularly strong terms. Though my view has never changed, I have struggled to find the words to express my strong support for the legislation. I found them in the words of Dr. Peter Short, the moderator of the United Church of Canada. He has expressed that the legislation does not represent an abandoning of faith, but rather an embracement of faith. He further reminds us that the literal interpretation of scripture has been used to justify actions that none of us would advocate: slavery, apartheid and the repression of women.

From my own faith, I take heart in the notion of informed conscience, that as Catholics we need to combine the teachings of the word with our own objective judgments and make wise decisions. This concept have been the tenet of many lives, including my late parents, of people who have made this world a better place. There are many people of faith who feel differently, but there are many who feel as I do and have indicated it to me. It does reinforce the importance of religious protections so clearly delineated in the bill.

I have had many telephone calls, written exchanges and visits with people who feel differently. I respect their right to their opinions and have in fact come to understand some new views of my own. I recall a meeting with a Baptist minister who strongly opposed my view but with whom I was honoured to share a prayer in my office, and I thank him for that privilege.

I must confess though that there is one concept with which I am simply unable to identify. That is the concept that extension of marriage rights to gays and lesbians diminishes marriage rights to others. I simply do not think or believe that the extension of rights to others diminishes our own. Why would it?

Why is it acceptable for those in our society who have committed the most egregious crimes against children, men who abuse their wives, murderers, war criminals and terrorists, that they can be married without diminishing the institution of marriage but gays and lesbians cannot? It does not make sense. Likewise, the idea that same sex couples cannot be a family is absolutely wrong.

There is much rhetoric on both sides of this argument. There are some who say that same sex couples are in fact better parents, more loving, understanding and more sensitive. I would simply suggest that there are both good and bad parents who are both homosexual and heterosexual.

I happen to be the godfather to a little girl who has two mothers. I can simply say without any fear of contradiction that no one would be better parents to Emily and her sister Rosie than her parents Jane and Vicki. They are a family in every respect and deserve to be recognized by their country and their fellow citizens as the family they are.

On every level, legal, personal experience, personal faith and family, I believe this is the right thing. It sits comfortably in both my head and my heart.

It does however leave one issue that troubles some people. Am I here to reflect my own views or reflect the majority view of my constituency? Leaving aside the fact that there is no clear way to know for certain the accurate view of my constituents short of a referendum on this issue, would it be appropriate for me to vote according to the majority view?

I have a responsibility to consult with my constituents actively and openly. I have done this and I will continue to do this. However at the end of the day I need to make a decision that I believe to be right and I will. I suspect it will cost me votes.

The only polling I have seen on this subject indicates feelings are mixed in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour on civil marriage, but those who oppose the bill are probably more inclined to vote against me rather than the reverse. This is democracy and I fully accept that fact.

However the fundamental issue of importance to me is that human rights and equality of minorities cannot be left to majority favour. Over the years, minority groups of every faith, race and sex have suffered at the hands of majorities. The fundamental principle of equality is the protection and even the enhancement of minority recognition and rights.

I support Bill C-38 for those reasons. I believe a time will soon come when we will look back on this debate with great national pride. The evolution of social justice, however, is seldom easy. I have respect for those who are uneasy with this legislation and I certainly hold no ill feelings.

I thank all my constituents who have expressed opinions. Nothing is more democratic or important. However the legislation passes every test for me, legally, morally and ethically. It affirms our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It supports issues of equality and, most important, it feels right in my heart. This is a law whose time has come.

I support the legislation as introduced by the government.

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5:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, listening to some of the members speak to the bill reminds me of that old statement, “If you stand for everything, you actually stand for nothing”.

The debate on Bill C-38 is vitally important because of the huge consequences it would have for Canadian society. The definition of marriage is a social issue as opposed to a rights issue and, therefore, is a matter for Parliament and parliamentarians to decide.

The Minister of State for Multiculturalism, the member for Richmond in British Columbia, assured the electorate in the 2004 election that he would defend the traditional definition of marriage at all costs. The member won the 1997 election and then lost in 2000 because he had lost touch with his constituents.

The riding of Richmond is very multicultural, with a majority of ethnic Chinese who believe strongly in traditional marriage. This legislation places the minister in a pickle. The Prime Minister is now telling him that he must vote with cabinet and oppose the traditional definition of marriage.

If the member for Richmond has any principles he will resign from cabinet. If the Prime Minister has any principles he will free his cabinet to vote their conscience.

The member for Richmond has been silent in the House of Commons and is marginalized if he continues to dither. His weakness will grow daily in the face of strong constituency opposition to the Liberal government position on marriage.

The bill has virtually no chance of passing the House of Commons if cabinet is free to vote their conscience.

For a member, such as the member for Richmond, to value the perks of office more than defending what he and his constituents profess to believe is unconscionable. He could do a huge public service and break the log-jam of cabinet discipline that is being used to pre-empt the public will.

I will be the first of many to congratulate the member if he makes this choice and I will have zero respect if he does not. He has already waited longer than prudence would dictate.

The vast majority of new Canadians support rights, multiculturalism, the charter and the traditional definition of marriage. Bill C-38 makes no attempt to accommodate their values. The Liberal government is proposing to remove the traditional definition of marriage and labelling it a violation of human rights. This is a threat to religious freedoms and multicultural values enshrined in the charter.

I have had several opportunities to present petitions in the House calling on Parliament to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. On February 25, I presented 7,000 signatures collected by the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association. This was in addition to the 22,000 signatures I presented earlier from this same group. This Vancouver based group, with the majority of their members drawn from the ethnic Chinese community, collected 29,000 signatures asking Parliament to protect and preserve the current definition of marriage. Many of the petitioners are in the riding of the member for Richmond.

I do not believe that Bill C-38 is a necessary piece of legislation. I have supported and I will continue to support the traditional definition of marriage. In this position I have been successfully consistent through four general elections. What the Liberal government is practising is a charade.

While the CPC as the official opposition is allowing and encouraging a free vote on this issue, the Prime Minister is insisting on cabinet support for the bill. This is adding to the democratic deficit which the Prime Minister once promised to abolish. Instead, he now owns it.

The Prime Minister misled Parliament on missile defence when he said that no decision had been made when it had already been made and communicated to the U.S. administration. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence added their weight despite knowing to the contrary. The Prime Minister now owns the democratic deficit. It is time for the Liberal cabinet to be urged to vote freely on this matter of personal conscience.

I believe there are people of goodwill on both sides of this issue. It is also my belief that any government action that directly affects this institution should, first, only be done with the clear and overwhelming support of Canadian society, and second, should seek to have minimal impact on the institution to avoid unintended consequences.

From the volume of correspondence I have received on Bill C-38, it is clear to me that there is no consensus in Canada for this drastic societal change to be made. The majority of correspondents, certainly from my constituency, are strongly opposed to the legislation.

The bill would profoundly affect the institution of marriage and Canadian families by changing the very definition of the relationship that is at the heart of both of these institutions. I am very concerned about the possible unintended consequences of this drastic social change: first, that the institution of marriage and, by extension, the family, could be weakened by the bill; and second, that religious freedoms could be infringed upon.

My fear is that tampering with the long held definition would weaken the institutional framework that supports the traditional family and the raising of children. When marriage is valued, it is an institution in which parental couples will sacrifice their personal situation for their children. When the institution of marriage is not valued in this way, one or more of the parents are more ready to abandon their responsibilities.

The special nature of marriage has proven over time that it is a cultural value that should not be dismissed due to court decisions in the absence of a federal statute defining marriage.

The issue at hand is not the Charter of Rights. It is Bill C-38. The only court that can definitively rule on the constitutionality of the traditional definition of marriage is the Supreme Court and it has not done so. The Supreme Court has explicitly refused to rule on the constitutionality of traditional marriage and has given the matter back to Parliament. This is a matter that ought to be debated and decided in Parliament, not in the courts.

The legislative vacuum on this issue has caused confusion and has forced the courts to rule without the guidance of Parliament.

Instead of hyperbolic statements about absolute rights, the House should try to find a moderate approach. This is the approach that the Conservative Party leader and much of the Conservative caucus are pursuing. We can find a balanced approach that would recognize same sex unions with rights and benefits due that relationship but still protects the traditional definition of marriage. The majority of Canadians can and do support this approach. Granting all the legal rights and benefits to same sex partnerships that the government grants to married heterosexual couples represents a middle position, a position that is in contrast to Bill C-38.

In 1999 the Deputy Prime Minister said in the House:

I fundamentally do not believe that it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate the equality issues around same sex partners which now face us as Canadians.

She has betrayed this statement by her subsequent actions. Parliament is as free today as it was in 1999 to preserve the traditional definition of marriage while accommodating the demand for equality by same sex partners.

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5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on the legislation on civil marriage. It goes to the very heart of our values as Canadians to end discrimination against each other, to treat individuals with equality and particularly to ensure that the law treats every person with equality.

As I have considered this issue, I have been heavily influenced by an important lesson I learned many years ago from my daughter. Karen was only nine when she first heard about the terrible treatment suffered by Canadian citizens of Japanese origin: how homes had been seized, families separated and men and women interned.

She was obviously disturbed by learning how these individuals and families had suffered and finally said, “Mom, what really bothers me is that maybe if I had been alive then I would have thought it was okay”. That moment has given me a principle which has been a guide for many of my life and political decisions.

Will this decision stand the test of time? Will generations to come look back on what we do today with shame or with approval?

There are many periods in our past which we can only look back on and wonder that our leaders of the time could have thought those things seemed okay. Usually they involved discrimination against a minority, often out of fear and often out of contempt for a group of fellow citizens, our fellow human beings, who were regarded as inferior and not quite worthy of the same treatment as the majority.

We interned Canadians of Ukrainian origin during the first world war. We imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants and then excluded them entirely. We interned Canadians of Italian origin during World War II. These are times we can only look back on with dismay and wonder that they seemed okay at the time.

When Canada closed its doors to Jews fleeing persecution and almost certain death in Nazi Germany, this was surely one of our darkest moments, yet it appears that these actions were considered okay at the time.

We have discriminated based on race. We have discriminated based on ethnicity. We have discriminated based on religion. There was even a time when Roman Catholic marriages were not considered legal in Canada. Jewish marriages were not considered legal. It was considered okay that women were persons under the law in matters of pains and penalties, but not in matters of rights and privileges.

What a debt of gratitude we owe to five brave and determined women who challenged the prevailing opinion and the law of the time to establish the full personhood of women. How much we owe to those who ignored dire predictions of social upheaval and fought for the right of women to vote. How much we owe to those who worked to change the accepted rules of the time that women had to quit their jobs when they got married or pregnant.

In Quebec for much of its history it was considered okay that a francophone Quebecker, no matter how capable, had virtually no chance of becoming the manager, vice-president or president of the company he or she worked for.

Because we looked back on our history and saw the injustices that were done, we adopted a Canadian Human Rights Act. We adopted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and enshrined it in our Constitution to protect minorities against arbitrary treatment, even from Parliament and the legislature.

Throughout history homosexuals too have faced contempt and discrimination, forced to live secret lives lest they be ostracized, fired or evicted from their homes. There was a time in Canada when homosexual relations were subject to the death penalty, and until the 1970s they were a criminal offence. Until very recently, a man or woman could be denied compassionate leave or pension benefits because a partner of many years was not of the opposite sex.

I understand that it is difficult for some to accept that a man can love another man or a woman another woman as most of us love someone of the opposite sex, yet the bond between two people of the same sex can be as profound, as committed and as life fulfilling as any heterosexual union.

Many protest that marriage is for procreation. If that were the case, I should not be allowed to marry at my age nor should many who are unwilling or unable to have children.

I reviewed my marriage vows. They did not say anything about procreation. What I promised was to love, honour and cherish my husband exclusively, through good times and bad, for the rest of our lives. For two people of the same sex who love each other enough to make such a profound public commitment to seek in each other fulfilment and completion, I say welcome to one of our most important social institutions: marriage.

I believe this decision will stand the test of time, that generations to come will approve of our including our fellow human beings fully and equally in the life of our country and our society.

Having carefully considered the views of my constituents on both sides of this issue, I intend to support the bill. It is consistent with my values as a Canadian and as a human being to treat every other human being with respect, with dignity and with love.

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5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, with respect to Bill C-38, the Prime Minister has one thing right, that is, at stake is the kind of nation we are today and the kind of nation we want to be.

The legislation invites Canadians to go down a road they do not wish to travel and to accept as a nation a fundamental change to the traditional definition of marriage, a change the majority of Canadians do not wish or choose to accept. This does not bode well for Canada.

The Prime Minister does not wish to submit this issue to a referendum and he does not care what the majority of Canadians think or feel, but should the bill succeed, it will happen whether he likes it or not: at the ballot box in the next election. The issue is too big and too important for the justice minister, the Prime Minister and his enforcers to decide. It will be decided ultimately by the people of Canada, ordinary men and women who believe in the traditional definition of marriage.

Although our liberal courts and the Liberal Party of Canada would like to describe this as a rights issue, an equality issue or a dignity issue, it is not. If anyone is confused on this issue, it is the Prime Minister himself.

It is amazing when there are no guiding fundamental principles in play how, one step at a time, one can come to a place of confusion. Who would have thought just a few years ago that we would be having the debate we are having today? Even the then justice minister, Anne McLellan, had stated as late as 1999--

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5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Order, please. The name of a member of the House is not mentioned. Members are referred to by position or by riding.

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5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The then justice minister, as late as 1999, said:

Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages.

She then said:

I fundamentally do not believe that it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate the equality issues around same sex partners which now face us as Canadians.

It was right then. It is right now.

What has changed?

Once again, in 2000 the minister stated, with reference to marriage being the relationship between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, “It has served us well...”. It still serves us well and it should not change.

She stated:

We recognize that marriage is a fundamental value and important to Canadians....Important matters of policy should not be left to the courts to decide.

It should be decided right here in the House of Commons.

This is not an issue of whether gays and lesbians can vote or whether they can serve in the military, and it is not an issue, as the member for Burnaby—Douglas says, of whether gays and lesbians can drink at the same water fountain or ride on the same section on buses or be on the same beach. If these matters were an issue, as some say they are, it would lend credence to the Prime Minister's arguments relating to equality rights and dignity of the person.

The core issue here is the redefinition of a known term so as to include someone who would by the very nature of the fundamental meaning of the term not be included. By reformulating, redefining, diluting or extending the definition of marriage, it has made it mean something other than what it is and was. Marriage essentially is the union of two people, a man and a woman, who consummate their relationship by sexual relations with the potential to procreate.

To change the definition to suit the whim or needs of anyone is not equality. It is catering to the current political thought at the expense of those who actually believe the definition is important and meaningful to them.

The very essence of marriage, its inherent nature, is by definition an opposite sex institution. If we change the very essence of the meaning of marriage, we have destroyed the institution as it is known.

In 2003 in a British Columbia Court of Appeal case, the Attorney General of Canada argued that “legal marriage does not discriminate in a substantive sense because gays and lesbians cannot achieve the ends for which marriage exists”.

This was also referred to in a statement by Mr. Justice La Forest in Egan v. Canada in a 1995 Supreme Court of Canada case, where the justice stated that the essence of marriage:

--is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.

In the Hyde v. Hyde case, which has been referred to by many politicians and judges alike, seldom has this passage from the judgment been quoted:

Marriage has well been said to be something more than a contract, either religious or civil; to be an institution.

Marriage is not religious marriage or civil marriage. It is an institution. It is more than just a contract between two people. The judge in the Hyde case clearly indicated that.

The Prime Minister and others make the distinction between religious and civil marriage and then deal with civil marriage as if it were something less, and I would suggest only for the purpose of making the real decision easier and getting them off the hook with religious leaders. The reality is that when the Prime Minister changes the definition of marriage it affects all marriage, whether it is religious or whether it is civil.

What the Prime Minister is doing, and he is being less than frank about it, is embarking on a profound change to the meaning of marriage. The time tested definition of marriage should not be simply set aside because somebody has a different idea about marriage. There may be many ideas about marriage, but an idea does not make it so. Ideas have to measure against what marriage in fact is.

Marriage is more than just a committed, loving relationship. To redefine it to mean something less than it is, simply put, is to embark on a slippery slope. While it is true that courts have veered from these defining characteristics of marriage, it does not mean that they are right in doing so.

In fact, the basis courts use to make the decisions they do are subjectively based and based on their perception of society. What gives them the right to be the sole arbiters of this important issue?

In the most recent Supreme Court of Canada case, where the Prime Minister tested the waters by referring pointed questions to the Supreme Court, the court essentially held that “our Constitution is a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life”.

In other words, things change as society changes. That is the problem with our society. That kind of reasoning allows for an anything goes philosophy. If the courts and politicians start redefining and accommodating a meaning of a thing to suit their own purposes, we could come to a place where the original meaning is lost and the end has no resemblance to its beginning and, in fact, can come to mean the opposite. This path is wrong, ill-advised, ill-conceived and we need to stop it.

Some things in society are solid and foundational, and some things are right and not wrong, and they require no judicial tinkering or political invention or intervention. These are best left alone, in fact protected and defended. Our country will be better for it. The traditional definition of marriage must and should be protected and will be protected from this side of the House.

The Prime Minister, after confusing the issue here as one of equality and rights, now tries to justify, by his inaction, the reason for his position now. He says that the definition of marriage has been changed by courts in seven provinces and one territory. Where was the Prime Minister when he had an opportunity to appeal those decisions and did not? Where was the Prime Minister when the courts had no federal legislation defining the capacity to marry and struck their own course to deal with the common law definition of marriage? Why did the Prime Minister advocate his constitutional responsibility, a responsibility that would have allowed him to define the capacity of marriage in line with his 1999 thinking so the courts would have a basis upon which to make the decisions that were before them?

He now uses his inaction to justify his present position and that this is the law of the land and he cannot do anything about it. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to rule on the all important fourth question, which was whether the heterosexual definition of marriage was constitutional. However it did say that Parliament had the ability to legislate with respect to the capacity of marriage which would include the definition of having it heterosexual. It did not rule on the constitutionality of that issue as the government's stated position was that it would proceed regardless of what answer the court gave. This is an example of the arrogance of the Liberal government.

The Prime Minister would like to divert attention from the real issue by saying that the notwithstanding clause needs to be used. It does not need to be used until the court rules on it and this party has the opportunity to legislate as does the government on that issue.

The Prime Minister's argument that religious officials are protected by not being required to perform same sex marriages is a very narrow point. It is a red herring and a small comfort to religious leaders, this especially so given the Prime Minister's and the former justice minister's flip-flop on maintaining the traditional definition of marriage. Any religious rights would surely clash with equality rights and everyone knows in such a battle the outcome would be uncertain.

My leader said, “There are fundamental questions here. Will this society be one which respects the long-standing basic social institution of marriage, or will it be one that believes even our most basic structures can be reinvented overnight for the sake of political correctness? There are some things more fundamental than the state and its latest fad”. That is the traditional definition of marriage.

He went on to say, “...marriage and family are not the creature of the state, but pre-exist the state”. We as a state must uphold and defend the traditional definition of marriage.

It is truly a significant time in the history of our country and indeed it is a time where at stake is the kind of nation we are today and the kind of nation we want to be.

As the Prime Minister has stated, “the gaze of history is upon us”. Whose vision of the future of our nation is the correct one? There is no doubt about that and the people of Canada will see to it. The Prime Minister has it wrong. Canadians will see to it that he has it right.

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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me as well to have these few minutes to speak on this matter, which could well be called a highly sensitive one. That is why the debate must be carried out with respect to all in this House. Personal attacks against certain members, or ministers, such as we have just heard, are not necessary. They are, moreover, excessive, since there will be parliamentarians of all parties in this House who will be on opposite sides with colleagues in their own party. This is an essential point that must not be lost sight of in this debate.

I will state my background. I have been married for 34 years. I am a grandfather. My wife Mary Ann is known to most of my colleagues here in this House. I am a practising Roman Catholic living in a francophone rural community. I intend to vote in favour of this bill. That will perhaps surprise some people, but that is too bad.

In my view this is a question of rights. These rights have been established and defined by the courts. Some criticize the Deputy Prime Minister, saying that as Minister of Justice she said one thing before the court gave its ruling and then said another after the court gave its ruling. Obviously, the judgment of a court has changed the definitions. Otherwise, we probably would not be having this debate. That is clear.

There is no need to attack colleagues because of what has happened. Instead, we must talk about our vision and what each and every one of us thinks is the best option for the future in this matter.

That is why I am speaking today. Is it a question of changing the definition of marriage in my province? Not at all. Same sex partners are getting married today, they got married yesterday and they will get married next week. It will change nothing in my province. In seven provinces and one territory in Canada, nothing will change. It is an existing practice.

Did those who have just made partisan comments mention that this will not affect these provinces and this territory? It is as though we were setting out to redefine something that did not exist before today, but that is not true.

Since this decision has come down I have received marriage invitations in my own constituency from people of the same sex. However I have not attended because I am not ready for that. I do not know if I ever will be but that is another matter. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with what the courts have decided is a fundamental right, which is why we are here.

Many years ago the courts in this country decided on other issues of rights. Yes, as the member said, the Supreme Court made decisions. I am glad the hon. member across heckled that because I want to refer to the persons case where in fact the Supreme Court had decided against. The issue was appealed to the judiciary committee of the Privy Council at the time which reversed the decision of the Supreme Court and decided that in terms of the British North America Act a woman was a person. The question was: why not? That was the decision that was given at that time.

Once that decision was rendered in 1931, did we ask ourselves the question: Does a majority of the people agree with the decision taken before we decide to put it into effect? Or, more appropriately put: Did the majority of the men, who were the only ones who counted, agree because prior to that presumably women were not persons? Were they somehow polled? Did we receive petitions? Did we decide in that way before determining whether the fundamental right that had been decided upon was going to proceed? Of course not.

At the beginning of my remarks I said that I have been married for 34 years to my wife Mary Ann. I wonder, if in 1931 the House had decided not to respect that decision that was handed down at the time, whether my wife Mary Ann would have the same rights today as I do. Would my daughter Julie, who worked here on Parliament Hill, and many of my colleagues on this side of the House and on the other side know as well, have the same rights as I do?

I think the answer is clear. I am quite certain that if they would have achieved that equality it certainly would not have occurred at that point. It would have taken longer if at all. We know that is the answer.

This has nothing to do with whether I like the decision that was handed down by the court. We vote on many things that we like and we vote on many things that we do not like. The issue is not whether we like it. It is whether it is right, which is why this issue is so important. It is important for us not to spend our time attacking each other but to talk about the importance of the issue.

Notwithstanding my background and notwithstanding everything else, I made the decision to take this opportunity to say where I come from on this issue. It may be from a totally different vantage point than many other members. It is for a totally different reason perhaps some would argue, but I hope at least that my rationale is valid. I say to the House that all of us have to look at it that way.

Yes, I have received letters, some nice, some no so nice and some threatening on both sides perhaps, although clearly more threatening with one particular point of view. I have seen all of this over recent months. I have seen attempts to plug up the e-mails in my office with thousands of them on one day, as if that would be a determining issue as to what are rights. Are rights determined by those who can plug up our e-mail? Is that the way in which we are going to govern this great country? Is that the way in which we have done it in the past?

I want to hear my colleagues tell me about the use of the notwithstanding clause in all of this. That is important.

Many same sex partners are already married. If we were to vote against Bill C-38, we would presumably not want them to have that right, which is already available in the province where I live. Are we going to unmarry those people, and by what process? If it is the position of some hon. members that it is wrong, then surely the ones who are married now are in the wrong. How are we going to revoke that? Do we use the notwithstanding clause?

I do not know whether I will ever vote in favour of using the notwithstanding clause for anything. The day that I do, I hope it will never be to revoke the rights from those who have received those rights by the courts of this great country. That is not where I stand. It will never happen that way as long as I have anything to do with it and as long as the people of Glengarry--Prescott--Russell decide that I am the person who should be here to represent them in the House.

Sooner or later we will all belong to some group or some minority. Somehow we will all be in that kind of situation. If we start revoking the rights of minorities, then the question we must ask ourselves is: who is next? Sooner or later it will be every one of us and every one of those we love and care for. Let us not do that. Let us stand up for what is right. For my part, I believe, respectfully, that what is right is to vote for Bill C-38.

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6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this very important issue that is of such great concern to many in my riding of Edmonton East and indeed right across Canada.

I would like to comment on the speech made by the member opposite earlier. We certainly believe that this issue should be in the House of Commons. The disappointment is that, unlike 1931, it is here with a whipped vote. It has an influenced vote on the frontbenches. It has an influenced vote on other parts. It has an influenced vote on other parties in the House too. That is very disappointing. This is exactly the place where this issue should be if there is going to be a question on it, but the fairness of the vote would be best.

Historically, marriage was recognized by the common man to be the cornerstone of existence itself. Marriage, as we know it now, became entrenched in society. Religion embraced marriage and the family unit as a significant sign of God's blessing for the world as a unique individual gift. Marriage is known and taught throughout the world by the vast majority of the people on earth as both a sacrament and vocation. The marriage debate taking place in the House, however, has once again allowed a special light to fall on marriage, its very meaning and essence.

Canadians are supportive of our multicultural society, particularly our emphasis on the equality and rights of all individuals. This issue of redefining traditional marriage to include same sex couples, however, is not an issue of individual rights but of collective rights. The collective beliefs of the vast majority of Canadians from across the world's cultural communities is that the traditional definition of marriage is a union of one man and one woman. This debate has this time caused Canadians to rally to the defence of natural marriage.

As we speak, coalitions, fraternities, groups, organizations and ethnic communities are forming and growing roots of discontentment on this issue throughout our nation. For one of the few times in the history of Canada, the people of Canada, with a single purpose, are uniting to define the traditional definition of marriage from what is being recognized as an orchestrated attack by the government on the institution of marriage, the bedrock of Canadian society.

I wish to refer to excerpts from just one of the many new declarations and mission statements made available by citizens who are now rallying to the defence of marriage. This declaration speaks to the heart of the issues and the matters at hand and should be recognized by the House as representative of the view of many citizens across Canada. It is entitled “A Declaration on Marriage” and is made available by Enshrine Marriage Canada through Robert Picard, president of the Canadian Foundation for Ethical Government. It states:

Marriage and the family are universal. All human beings are born of a mother and begotten by a father. This is a universal biological reality and the common experience of all people. The state supports the institution of marriage because it promotes and protects the father-mother-child relationship as the only natural means of creating and continuing human life and society.

Marriage means one man and one woman. Marriage in Canada has always been defined as “the union of one man and one woman,” the chief function of which is to promote the biological unity of sexual opposites as the basis for family formation. Governments may want to support other relationships, but these should not be called “marriage,” or confused with it.

Marriage is centred on children. Marriage is a child-centred, not an adult-centred, institution.

Marriage rests on four conditions. Marriage is a solid social structure resting on four conditions concerning number, gender, age, and incest. We are permitted to marry only one person at a time. They must be someone of the opposite sex. They must not be below a certain age. They must not be a close blood relative. Those who satisfy all these conditions--each of which safeguards the well-being of children, the family, and society--have a right to marry. The removal of any of them threatens the stability of the whole structure.

Marriage is about more than equality. All government policies are intentionally preferential. If we want welfare or veterans’ benefits, or child-support, or marital benefits, we have to qualify for them. Such policies are ordinary forms of distributive justice through which, for its own good, the state discriminates in favour of some people, and some relationships, and not others. So an absence of “equality” is not a good argument against such policies. As same-sex partnerships already receive the same benefits as marriages, however, something else is at issue: an attempt to persuade the public that such partnerships are of the same value to society as marriages. But they can only be made so by denying the unique contribution of marriage as a biologically-unitive, child-centred institution.

Marriage belongs to the people. Marriage is an institution that has arisen from long-held beliefs and customs of the people that are prior to all states and all courts, and are essential to the very fabric of society. Any attempt by unelected officials of the courts or by any other branch of government to claim ownership of marriage, to alter it without the support of a significant majority of the people, or to diminish the father-mother-child relationship in favour of the state-citizen relation, usurps the natural rights and freedoms of the people and constitutes a serious breach of the public trust.

This pivotal issue has brought unity to the people of Canada in recognition that they can no longer take their constitutional freedoms for granted. Further, it has brought with it the realization that all of us, as citizens of Canada and as human beings, must come to the aid to support our family values and the institution of marriage, and those who choose this definitive, child-centred relationship as their lifelong vocation.

Same-sex relationships could be publicly recognized, as could opposite sex, long term economic relationships through the use of such concepts as registered domestic partnerships, or whatever term is decided.

The redefinition of the word marriage cuts to the core of so many Canadians' lives that it boggles the imagination that it would even be an issue today. The Liberals, in their quest to re-interpret all things to fit their myopic vision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, do so without regard to the sensitivity of Canada's faith, cultural, and collective citizenry.

For those who recognize the importance of how the lessons of history affect the present, I would remind them that the Charlottetown accord was supported by the government of the day, but failed when all Canadians had the opportunity to have a voice, to have a vote in a national referendum. Even the issue of embodying a distinct society recognition for Quebec failed to have the support of Quebeckers, the minority affected.

In 1999 the House of Commons held a free vote to support the definition of traditional marriage as the union of one man and one woman, which carried by a great majority.

Today, shamefully, many members of the House of Commons will not be allowed to vote freely. Members will not be allowed to represent the people who have elected them to be their voice. The Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP are stacking the deck of true public opinion by forcing members to vote only by party line. It is very evident that the only way true public opinion will be heard is in a national referendum, where once again each and every Canadian will have a voice, a vote.

It is clear that it is time we heard from all Canadians on this vital social issue. With that in mind, I have brought a preamble to a petition. I think it is worth reading because this is the question that many Canadians are feeling they should be asking in order to have their say. It begins “Whereas the historical, cultural, traditional and natural definition of marriage in Canada has always been the union of a man and a woman, we, the undersigned, petition Parliament to call for instituting a national referendum to ask the people of Canada directly if they wish to redefine marriage.

I refer again to my comments where I said that in 1931 a free vote in the House on a very important social issue was a good way to have it and the way that it should have be done. However, I have a great fear today, with indications from around the House from various parties, that it will not necessarily be a free vote. I feel that perhaps citizens' initiatives of other formats should be considered as well.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I find it interesting to listen about free speech, free votes, when the members in the official opposition had to have their speeches vetted. The comments I am about to make have not been vetted. They are reflective of my opinions, after much deliberation with my constituents on an issue which is extremely important to me. I will be speaking from the heart.

In the last year and a half civil marriage has been extended to gays and lesbians in Ontario, and I have had a lot of time to reflect. When I ran in the last campaign and decided how I would approach this issue as somebody who aspired to sit in the House and be a representative of my constituency, two factors weighed prominently for me and that I articulated. The first was the protection of religious freedoms as guaranteed under subsection 2(a) of our charter. The second was equality for all Canadians, which is also protected under our charter.

I take that document very seriously. It is a document that I think needs to be a guiding force in the decisions that we make in the House. Wearing pins that call it stupid certainly does not add anything to the debate. It is a great document and it is worth considering as we move forward in this process.

The first question is on the issue of protecting religious freedoms. There are a couple of things that are worth mentioning. Subection 2(a) of the charter, which is very clear, is also further reinforced within this legislation under clause 3. It states:

It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

It also is stated in the preamble, as follows:

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

That is pretty clear. In fact there was legislation in the Province of Ontario that was very similar along these lines and many different religious groups came out and said that it was dead one, that it was exactly what they wanted to see to ensure their religious rights were protected. We have done the same thing and I feel very comfortable in that.

For those who are not even comforted in that very secure wording and also subsection 2(a) of the charter, we have further protection. In fact, the issue of divorce is a perfect analogy in this regard.

When we look at the issue of divorce and remarriage, not so long ago the church would come out and rightfully say that within the Bible it stated that it was a mortal sin to get divorced and then remarried because that was considered adultery. The church had a great concern at that point in time that it would be overridden and the state would force the church to perform remarriages. That never occurred and it never took place. The respect of that distinction remained and we dealt with the issue of divorce in totality.

We have on the one hand the protection of religious freedoms, and we know that is assured. I outlined all the reasons why it is absolutely assured. What is the next issue? It becomes the question of equality. Why is it not a question of equality, although some question that it is a matter of equality? I do not feel it is absolutely and fundamentally an issue of equality.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Civil Marriage Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Oda Clarington—Scugog—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, late last December we asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage about her role and responsibilities regarding the Canadian broadcasting system.

The official opposition has seen little evidence that the government is up for the job. It does not have a clearly defined plan for the broadcasting system in Canada and if the government had articulated a plan for the new communications environment, Canadians would have greater confidence in its stewardship of our broadcasting system.

When I was a CRTC commissioner, we knew that digital technology would dramatically alter our communications environment. We knew that Canadians would be using new technology and devices not seen before. The U.S. government established its policy framework for the digital age 15 years ago. Here in Canada the government has done nothing. Consequently, the CRTC has been establishing national policy as it deals with each individual application.

Today we have a situation where, without any broad policy direction from the government or a review of its radio broadcasting policy, the CRTC has gone ahead and heard subscription radio applications. In other words, we have decisions being made within a vacuum. Without a plan and updated policies established by elected members of the House, we continue to see government appointees determining the future of Canadian broadcasting.

I also want to point out that if the minister and her government are not up to the job, we are ready to take over. Currently the situation is compounded whereby the boards of key industry organizations are in flux. The CBC has lost its chair, two other board positions have lapsed and one other will lapse within months. At the CRTC the government has left the Maritimes and B.C. without representation. Who is really in charge?

We have no clear government policy or plan for this sector, not even for today and tomorrow. As the environment changes and technologies are advancing, it is imperative that we have a map of how our broadcast system is to unfold.

Last December the minister said that the CRTC and the CBC were independent of the government, and so it should be. However, her responsibility is to lay out a plan and clear policy directions within which these agencies should move forward. The government must do more than merely respond incident by incident. If it had been listening to the demands of Canadians and aware of the realities of the environment, it would not have had to use taxpayer dollars to create an emergency task force to deal with the introduction of foreign language services such as RAI.

Why does the minister not fulfill her responsibilities to lay out tomorrow's vision for this sector? Will the government present a clear, comprehensive plan for the future of Canadian broadcasting in Canada so that it is the government and not the CRTC determining our future. Will the minister insist that the review of the telecommunications sector, announced in the budget, will include consideration of how broadcasting will be delivered and affected in the new world of broadband delivery and competition, not only in telephony and data but also in video? If not, then its inaction will force Canadians to access their desired services using new technologies and bypass the Canadian system.

Civil Marriage Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Madam Speaker, I want to thank all members of the House who support the CBC, as I do, and its central role in the vitality of culture and identity in Canada.

It gives me great pleasure to talk about concerns expressed regarding the comments of Robert Rabinovitch, president of the CBC, published in La Presse on December 8, 2004.

In his interview, Mr. Rabinovitch expressed the view that the Minister of Canadian Heritage could not intervene directly in public television programming. He also stated, “The CBC is a public service, not a crown service”.

Allow me to respond directly to Mr. Rabinovitch's remark. It is neither the minister's mandate nor her responsibility to intervene in the programming of a crown corporation such as the CBC. Moreover, as the president states in the article, “[The Minister of Canadian Heritage] says things in the newspapers, but she has never phoned to tell me to change a program she dislikes”. Later in the same article he said, “I have been here for five years, and in those five years, I have never received a call from the minister about programming”.

As the member can see, Mr. Rabinovitch's remarks indicate that the ministers of this corporation have always respected the CBC's independence from the government.

Let me refer to two acts that are essential to the understanding of the roles of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the CBC.

The Broadcasting Act, 1991 stipulates that the Canadian Broadcasting system should safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabrics of Canada; encourage the development of Canadian expression; maintain and promote the national identity and cultural sovereignty; and inform, enlighten and entertain Canadians of all ages, interests and tastes. The act also specifies that the system must be owned and controlled by Canadians, that the programming be drawn from local, regional, national and international sources, including educational and community programming, that they be offered in French and English and that there be a national public broadcaster, a single regulator and a single system.

In pursuing these objectives, federal policies and programs are set up to support the creation of distinct programming that reaches in every community and reflects their realities in all their diversities. The system is also a window on the world and offers the Canadian public the best programming in the world.

The other act, the Department of Canadian Heritage Act, establishes the mandate that the department carries out in the cultural and community life of Canada. The Minister of Canadian Heritage is responsible for policies and programs relating to broadcasting, among other things. The Canadian heritage portfolio, composed of the department and 19 crown corporations and agencies, including the CBC, plays a central role in supporting cultural and community activities in Canada.

The departmental agencies and crown corporations in the portfolio are among the principal Canadian institutions supporting artistic and cultural expression. The Minister of Canadian Heritage ensures that the main orientation of the agencies and crown corporations in the portfolio support the government's goals and priorities.

Given that, it goes without saying that the Minister of Canadian Heritage, as the individual responsible for the entire Broadcasting Act and policy, is called upon to make comments, perhaps comments which provoke reaction. However, expressions of opinion or doubts as a minister is not interference in the day to day activities of a corporation like the CBC.