House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was religious.

Topics

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, my position has been clear from 16 years ago. It has not changed one iota so I do not know what the hon. member is talking about. I have been consistent throughout in my opposition to same sex marriage. It is not a right. It never has been a right. It is a question of whether society wants to allow it as a matter of social policy. Even the Supreme Court did not say it was a right.

As for the comment that the section is declaratory, I already dealt with that and so did the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said that even if it is declaratory it is of “no effect and is superfluous”. If the Supreme Court has said that something is of no effect and superfluous, why in heaven's name legally is it in the bill?

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, with considerable serenity, joy and solidarity, I rise with pleasure to speak to this important bill.

As we know, this bill adds an extremely important building block to the institution of human rights. I believe all parliamentarians concerned about human rights have a reason today to delight in the fact that this matter is before Parliament, in order to give homosexual persons the right to enjoy loving relationships and, since it is the issue, to also contemplate marriage.

The origins and roots of today's debate run deep. In the early 1970s, some people went to court to contest the ban on their getting married. I would like things to be put in perspective. It is easy, in such a debate, to get off the track, to mislead the House and even to make erroneous statements.

Bill C-38 does not have anything to do with religious marriage. It is true that, in the division of powers we have in Canada, the celebration of marriage is a provincial responsibility. What has been challenged before the courts in this new century is the question of whether it is compatible with the equal treatment provisions in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to refuse access to what is still one of the great civil institutions in our society, the most important one after schools, namely marriage.

The Supreme Court ruled that it was inconsistent with equal treatment and with Canadians' and Quebeckers' ideals of magnanimity and equality and the recognition of full citizenship rights not to recognize the right of same sex partners to engage in marriage.

It has nothing to do with religion. Every time the Supreme Court has been seized with the issue, it has recognized an extremely liberal definition of freedom of religion. This freedom is defined as the right to profess a dogma, a religion or a world view without fear. I am convinced that no one in this House would want any religious denomination to be harassed or accused of discrimination for refusing to recognize same sex marriage.

It is something else, however, to lead people to think that even secular public officials, whose job it is to apply the law, could fail to do so in the name of their personal religious convictions. All are equal before the law. From the moment that Parliament passes legislation—as we are confident Bill C-38 will pass—this legislation applies everywhere in Canada and there is no room for people who refuse to apply it. People who do not agree with the interpretation of the law will have to do something else.

In any case, it will not be possible to avoid applying the law, any more than it is for a public servant at Revenue Canada who does not agree with the tax tables to avoid taxing people. When someone is a public official, and not a religious official, he or she has a responsibility to apply the law as it was passed by people with democratic legitimacy, that is to say, elected officials.

It is interesting to ask the following question: why do people with a homosexual orientation want to get married? I know a lot of people who are same sex partners and have been together for 15, 20, 25 or 30 years, sharing exactly the same values as heterosexuals, and who have decided to get married.

What are these values? Obviously, spouses want to mutually support one another. There is also fidelity, the desire for recognition as a mutually exclusive couple. So we have mutual support, fidelity and, of course, last but not least, a third value, which is the need for social recognition. It would be extremely sad not to see homosexual unions receiving the same consideration and respect as heterosexual unions.

During this entire debate, people have tried to make us believe that homosexuals are less capable of commitment and seriousness in a relationship. This begs the question. Who has threatened the institution of marriage?

I am not saying that people have to get married. Common-law partners mutually support one another, obey the law, pay taxes, are involved in their communities and are model citizens. No one has to get married. However, believing that just because people are homosexual, they are less capable of honouring the commitments of marriage, just does not hold water, in my opinion. Allowing the marginalization of homosexuals is a form of blatant discrimination.

Currently in Canada, eight provinces and two territories have permitted homosexuals to marry in the last few years. Has anyone in the heterosexual community been denied their rights? Has allowing homosexuals in Canada to marry infringed on the freedoms exercised by the family or the heterosexual community? No one in the House could give an example of a negative consequence that could be attributed to the recognition of homosexual unions and life as we know it, or as our communities should know it.

One political party in this Parliament has systematically practised institutional homophobia. Since 1993, its members have asked us at every opportunity to consider homosexuals as second class citizens. I am happy that the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and a majority of Liberal members have never responded to this call to treat homosexuals as second class citizens.

The official opposition voted against recognizing same sex spouses in the public service, against recognizing spouses as common-law partners, and against section 718 of the Criminal Code prohibiting hate crimes and giving harsher sentences to those who beat up homosexuals. The official opposition is going to vote against the recognition of same sex marriage. That is their right. Perhaps they are doing so for political reasons, but, once again, I am quite pleased that a majority of parliamentarians in this House have chosen to put an end to the institutional homophobia that exists and denies full citizen rights to gays and lesbians.

Why is it important to recognize same sex couples? It is important because from now on in the public schools in our communities, we will be able to say that the issue of marriage and the family encompasses the right of gays and lesbians to be full citizens. Anything that contributes to giving a sense of respectability to same sex unions and to gays and lesbians as individuals deserves to be encouraged.

Did you know that there are still many adolescents who, at age 15, 16 or 17, discover their homosexuality and wonder how they will fit into society in the future? Well, in the future, if a young person, regardless of where he is in Canada, wonders what his place will be in society, he will know that in his professional life and in his romantic relationships he will be recognized as a full citizen who contributes to society. I am convinced that this will be a positive step to his full acceptance as an individual.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, at least the hon. member is honest. I respect that.

Across the floor we have, on the other hand, a group of members of Parliament who claim to oppose gay marriage, who stand up in their constituencies, who rail against it in church halls, who go out and try to win votes because of their opposition--alleged opposition--to this particular legislation. Last week, when they had the opportunity to do something about their opposition to this bill, they did nothing. In fact, they worked to see it pass.

We have on the other side of the floor a group of hypocrites, hypocrites who sit there right now and claim that they oppose this legislation. They claim that they want to protect the traditional definition of marriage. They do that because they know that the majority of Canadians in all polls that have come out on the matter support the traditional definition of marriage in all parts of the country. These members stand up in the House of Commons and claim that they are on side with the majority. Last week, when they could have put an end to it, they signed a written deal with the Bloc Québécois, the separatists, to see that go ahead, to see those votes occur, and to ensure that gay marriage will be on the agenda this week and will be passed into law.

I suggest that those 30-plus members who sit in the Liberal caucus and claim to support the majority view, which defends the traditional definition of marriage, but who last week voted with their government and with the separatists and the socialists are the real hypocrites in this debate.

That is why I say to the hon. member, though I disagree with him on his position, I respect the fact that he is honest about it. He is honest with his constituents, unlike members I see sitting right in front of me who have been utterly dishonest and hypocritical in the presentation of their position.

Thank you very much, and I invite comments.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Prior to recognizing the hon. member for Hochelaga, may I remind the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton to be very prudent with the vocabulary he uses against individuals in this House.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Referring to all 30 of them.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure either that “hypocrite” is a parliamentary word. I was therefore surprised at how generously the Conservatives, to whom this attribute may also be applied, have made use of it.

That said, I think that the basis of the debate is as follows. There are people who are homosexual and who want to get married for all sorts of reasons, including those I have mentioned: mutual support, fidelity and the desire to live out their days with their partner.

No Conservative member has been able to answer the following question: how does this threaten the freedom of the heterosexual community? Heterosexual marriage, which is being called traditional, will be maintained. My twin brother, who is heterosexual, will not marry a man because this bill passes. Their logic is totally twisted. It does not stand up to analysis.

In the two countries—Canada will be the third—where marriage involving partners of the same sex has been approved, marriage has not been abandoned by the heterosexual community.

What is this association whereby heterosexual marriage, which is being called traditional marriage, will be put to death if another group in society is given rights? This is what I do not understand in the Conservatives' logic.

That is probably why there are as many people in Quebec preparing to vote Conservative as there are still listening to vinyl records.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the subject matters that has been debated today has been the issue of the balancing of equality rights and religious freedoms within the charter. I wonder if the member would care to speculate whether or not there will be a challenge coming before the courts to religious groups who deny marriage to same-sex couples on the basis that the equality provisions of the charter trump religious beliefs.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the Supreme Court responded very clearly to this issue in paragraph 60 of the reference, just as officials at the Department of Justice had before. I will read the paragraph in question:

Returning to the question before us, the Court is of the opinion that, absent unique circumstances with respect to which we will not speculate, the guarantee of religious freedom in s. 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.

It is not the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, nor the parliamentary secretary who said that, but the Supreme Court.

The provision of the bill not having to do with the marriage celebration, but with freedom of religion, is very clear. In its reference in response to the cabinet's question, the Supreme Court was very clear. I believe that religious challenges will be difficult to establish under section 2(a) of the Charter since, again, the Supreme Court was very clear on the matter.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with pleasure to support the concerns of my constituents and to take their position in speaking in opposition to Bill C-38. I would like to encourage my friend from Hochelaga to take a closer look at the Conservative position on this issue because it deals directly with his concerns. I would suggest that if he were to look closer at it, he would be prepared to adopt our position.

I stand in surprise that I am in agreement with two Liberal members, specifically from Mississauga South and Scarborough Southwest. I would suggest that my friend from Fundy—Royal, who is also on the committee that studied Bill C-38, did an excellent job today in summing up the findings of the committee, in fact speaking about some of the procedural difficulties with that committee.

The institution of marriage was created for the purpose of procreation and nurturing children of the union. After listening to many of the experts who came forward at committee, I am greatly concerned that the committee has not had a thorough analysis of the issues and has not drawn enough attention to what I consider to be the voice that has no voice, and that is the children of future generations of Canadians. I am greatly concerned about the children of our future, as they must be protected.

A stable home with a mother and father is the foundation of our civilization. Although it cannot in today's age always be attainable, it is something that we should work toward and maintain and keep secure.

I would like to begin by summarizing my position and state emphatically that the bill is about social policy. It is not about charter rights and in no way can it be expressed that the definition of marriage itself is an inalienable human right. I have argued constitutional and charter cases protecting minority rights in northern Alberta. I have immediate family members who are members of visible minorities, including the homosexual community, Métis and treaty communities. This is why I will not support any legislation that infringes upon the rights of any Canadian. I believe Bill C-38 will do so.

I believe in this case the Government of Canada is taking one group's position over another group's position and is therefore infringing upon the rights of that other group. I believe strongly that the Charter of Rights must be respected and the rights of all minorities must be protected, not just the rights of the homosexual community but also the rights of the heterosexual community, especially religious groups, and the rights of children, which must be of paramount concern in this case. That is why I support the traditional definition of marriage.

I have risen in the House before and given this same argument, but I like the argument so I will give it again. I believe words have three parts: the first is the word itself; the second is the meaning that describes the word; and the third are the rights and obligations that flow from the word. I believe the word “marriage” is no different from that and it is no exception. It identifies a group of individuals within our society. In this case the group that it describes is the relationship between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others in a state-recognized contract, nothing more, nothing less.

It is my position that the rights and obligations that flow from this word need to be extended to other groups that have not even been a part of this discussion, other minority groups that are not protected. I would submit those other groups should receive not only the rights of married couples, but also the obligations of married couples which are so obviously and continuously ignored.

As the leader of the official opposition has stated time after time, we must respect all Canadians regardless of sexual orientation. All couples who apply for solemnization of their relationship should receive that respect and the rights and obligations of married couples. However, this can be done without changing the definition of marriage.

I also believe we should send a clear message of protecting minority rights to another minority, and that is the minority of common-law couples who have been in cohabitation for a certain period of time. Some provinces in Canada currently do this, but this is a place where we as legislators should move forward and protect the rights of individuals which are at this stage taken for granted.

Each of these groups, though, should be defined individually. Let us face it, the relationship is different between a man and a man, a man and a woman and a woman and a woman. All these groups should have the same rights and obligations under the law and should be respected equally.

In terms of protecting rights, it is also my belief that as members of this House we must protect the rights of those who have already entered into marriage, believing that it is a contract between them with specific terms. We must protect the rights of those people who have no voice, who have no vote here today and have no vote even to elect us as members. They are the future generations of children who have been ignored by the legislation and will be the cost of our society.

Protecting rights is a dual obligation though. Just as with every right comes a corresponding obligation, receiving a right can sometimes infringe upon other people's rights and expectations. Respect works both ways. If Bill C-38 is passed, there is no question that we will infringe dramatically on the rights of people and groups within our society.

If we want our beliefs respected, then we should respect others, but it is reciprocal and they should respect our beliefs as well. With mutual respect comes the end of bigotry, hate and prejudice, and this is what I seek: a utopia where we can all get along, not just in Canada but in the entire world.

The Conservative Party is calling for a free vote. I would challenge the members opposite to allow their members, even the members of the government, to have a free vote so they can express and take the ramifications of their decisions on that final day, election day, when it does come.

We in the Conservative Party respect the supremacy of Parliament. I believe we should respect the will of Canadians and vote that way while at the same time protect minorities. With the agenda and policy that Conservatives have put forward, that can be done.

In my constituency of Fort McMurray--Athabasca in northern Alberta, I had less than 12 responses in favour of same sex marriages. I had almost 2,000 responses wanting the traditional definition of marriage maintained but at the same time protecting the rights of all society and all groups in society.

We have taken a reasonable compromise position that should be more thoroughly analyzed. I believe and would suggest that it would protect the rights of minorities. At the same time, it would be consistent with the views of a vast majority of Canadians. We want to recognize the traditional definition of marriage without detracting from the rights and obligations of people in same sex relationships.

Here is a reminder. After hearing evidence at committee, it is obvious that 99% of the world's population continues to honour the traditional definition of marriage. That means 99% of the world, except for Canada, possibly and a few other nations in the world, take the position of the Conservative Party.

We want to create the status of civil union. I would suggest to the party opposite that it is not too late to recognize civil unions but at the same time give identical rights to all groups. With Bill C-38 passing, I foresee serious threat to religious freedoms, more serious than I thought originally before I sat in the committee. I believe charitable statuses will be taken away, that it will affect the ability to preach sacred text and ultimately force the change to the text itself, including the Bible and the Quran. I can see that in the near future being part and parcel of passing Bill C-38. It will simply not protect religious freedoms or religious institutions.

Finally, the Conservative Party represents the only middle ground, the only compromise position on the debate from any political party. Canada's law should reflect the priorities of Canadian society while protecting the rights of all minorities. We should be following the will of Canadians. We are elected and we are answerable to them, so why are we not following the will of Canadians?

The Conservative Party has proved that we will respect both sides of the debate and all Canadians equally. Now it is time for other members of the House and other Canadians to do the same. In 25 or 50 years, when Canada reaps what it sows from this Liberal same sex social experiment, Canada and Canadians will be able to look back and see that we in the Conservative Party had the best interests of Canada in our hearts, our minds and our words.

My opinion is the terms of reference of the Bill C-38 legislative committee were a farce. With respect to how it was run, I believe the timeframes were ridiculous, the witnesses and the research materials were impossible to logically study. The time and the witnesses were quite frankly disrespected because they did not have time to prepare and provide proper analyses.

It is obvious to me that although the rule of law and due process are requirements of all Canadians, the courts and tribunals, it is not necessary in this House of Commons and it is shameful. The House is supposed to represent the people of Canada. Those Liberals in control of this agenda should be absolutely ashamed of how it was run.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have two quick questions for my colleague. I had the opportunity to sit on one of the legislative committees. He touched on it briefly in his speech.

First, does he think this legislative committee process was a valid way to study the impact and issues surrounding Bill C-38?

We have heard from a former Liberal MP, now an independent MP, who was so disgusted by the way the rules were set up. With the heavy-handedness of the government, it was going to ram this committee along, lump all the witnesses together, preventing people to speak against the idea of homosexual marriage or from having a reasoned and timely way to express their opposition to it.

Second, does he think the Liberal MPs, who pretend to be in opposition to homosexual marriage, are being truthful with their own constituents? Time and time again when they have the opportunity to put the nail in the coffin for Bill C-38, to stand up for what their constituents want them to do and to vote on their behalf, they have voted with the government. They have obeyed their political masters in the Prime Minister's office rather than the voters in their ridings.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned that I believed the legislative process was a farce.

With respect to the hon. member who ran the committee, he did an excellent job. However, this is no valid way to study it.

I was plopped in there. We did not receive any reports beforehand. Many of the witnesses complained they had received only 24 hours notice to testify. They received 24 hours notice to prepare a presentation to a committee that was supposed to study the ramifications of Bill C-38, which could be astronomical for our social policy in the future.

There was no timeframe. The committee heard from 55 witnesses. I still have not received some of the reports. I have only read two or three of them because that is all I received before questioning. We had four days in a row of six hours of committee work, working through supper and through different meetings. There was not enough time to study the ramifications of it.

I believe the committee itself was a farce. It was a put on. I do not think anyone, except for maybe some of the members of this side of the House, even read most of the briefs and presentations put forward. They certainly did so with an open mind, compared to other members of the committee.

As far as the member's second question, I cannot speak specifically to those people on the other side of the House. I think it is a situation where they have had the ability to topple the government and stop Bill C-38 if that were he wish of their constituents.

I believe, no matter what happens here today, that we should follow as a House and as members of the House the will of our constituents. I believe the will of Canada overall is to not have Bill C-38 go forward and to have it stopped today. It should stop today.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to respond to the charges the member has again levelled against the process in the committee. He has done this consistently throughout the committee hearings and again today in his speech.

He says that witnesses were not given enough time to prepare. We have known that this has been on the public agenda for many months and many years. I do not think there was one organization in the country, which was interested in the whole question of gay and lesbian marriage or same sex marriage, that was not well prepared at a moment's notice to appear and make its feelings and understanding of these issues known.

Most of the groups had websites up and running with all of their statements gathered there ready to go. There is no question that people were aware the debate would be happening and were aware of the timing of that.

More than that, the Conservatives on the committee agreed to the timing of hearing witnesses. There was unanimous agreement on the committee about the timing of our hearings. There was unanimous agreement about the number of witnesses that we were going to hear. In fact, the committee bent over backwards to hear extra witnesses from the Conservatives' list of proposed witnesses.

We went out of our way to deal with that. We had fair and open hearings. I read the work. I did the homework and was prepared to question the witnesses as they appeared.

Did the member not agree to the timing of the committee hearings? Did he not agree to when we would hear witnesses? Was he not part of that agreement at the committee, as we all were?

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, the answer, in short, is no, I was not part of that decision making process. No, I did not agree to having those witnesses shoved through committee so quickly and the procedural unfairness that went forward.

I would like to read a letter from the clerk of the committee as a result of that decision. The letter reads:

As a result of this decision, I had to contact 57 witnesses for the hearings, right after the end of the May 30th meeting. Based on that final list, I called the witnesses to invite them to appear on May 31st and the subsequent meetings and because of the committee's decision to hear those 57 witnesses in a short period of time, some of the witnesses had less time to prepare, especially those who appeared on May 31st, June 1st and June 2nd.

How many witnesses were not able to appear before the committee that were invited to testify?

On the final list, 7 persons or organizations declined our invitation....

They could not appear because they did not have time to prepare. It was procedurally a joke. I would use the example of Bill C-48 last week. We knew it was on the agenda but all of a sudden a fast one was pulled and we were called in from airports and everywhere else around the country in order to vote on something with half an hour or an hour's notice.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Kings—Hants
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Scott Brison Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's logic during his speech was that marriage is there at least in part for children. If he says that marriage is really an institution for children, is he saying that heterosexual couples who are incapable of having children, for instance post-menopausal women, ought not to be allowed to get married? I think that is an important question if the member's logic is based on marriage being an institution primarily to support children.

We are all aware that there are gays and lesbians within Canada who are adopting children. If the member believes that marriage and the stable environment provided by marriage is good for children, should those gay and lesbian families with children and the children in those families not be given the opportunity to have the stability and benefit of marriage?

I do think stability is provided by marriage and that it is good for children, and he has expressed that, therefore, as such, why would he discriminate against those children being adopted by gays and lesbians?

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I never saw the member at any of the committee meetings listening to any of the experts. I doubt very much that he has read any of the material that has come forward from these experts. Psychologists and people in the field have been listening to this.

The point is that we did not have the time to analyze and investigate the information but it is there. Should we not take the time to step back, take a breath of fresh air and properly and appropriately analyze the material that was brought forward by the experts, even government experts, to see what the impact will be on children? Should we not take a look at the science and analyze it to make proper decisions?

My colleague across the floor should have opened the book on the Conservative agenda and he would have seen that civil union would have been enough to satisfy his concerns.