House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was marriage.

Topics

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I wish to inform the House that because of the deferred recorded divisions, government orders will be extended by 11 minutes.

[For continuation of proceedings see Part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from Part A]

Marriage
Government Orders

December 6th, 2006 / 3:40 p.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved:

That this House call on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to begin the debate on today's motion. As the sponsor of the motion, I will like to take a few moments to explain to the House why the government is moving forward with today's motion and the government's position with respect to it.

Some members may ask why the House needs to be consulted on this issue, After all, less than two years ago, this issue was debated and voted on in this House, in the form of Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act.

At that time, a majority of the members decided to approve a law to define marriage for civil purposes as the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others. That decision by the House had the effect of replacing the traditional definition of marriage as being the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. In short, Parliament decided that the definition of marriage should include same sex couples.

The debate surrounding Bill C-38 generated a significant amount of controversy. It was a divisive debate both in the House and among Canadians as a whole. That debate continues on this issue within Canadian society.

Since marriage is an essential foundation of our society, it is important that a fully democratic decision be taken by the House of Commons whether the institution of marriage should be changed. Given the importance of marriage in our society and its importance to Canadians, we made a commitment in the last election to ask parliamentarians whether they wished to revisit this issue. Our commitment stated:

A Conservative government will hold a truly free vote on the definition of marriage in the next session of Parliament. If the resolution is passed, the government will introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage while respecting existing same-sex marriages.

By presenting today's motion for a debate and a vote in the House, the government is fulfilling the commitment we made to Canadians in the last election.

Let me turn to the meaning of today's motion and its implications.

The motion itself will not change the definition of marriage. Rather, the motion asks members whether they want to reopen the debate on the definition of marriage. If the House decides to adopt this motion, the government will introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage for civil purposes. In other words, the government will present to the House a bill defining marriage as the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. It would then be up to the House to debate such a bill and to vote on whether the bill should be enacted in July.

Therefore, those who argue that the traditional definition of marriage is an essential social institution that ought to be restored and protected should vote in favour of this motion. Similarly, members who believe that there are other ways to recognize same sex unions without altering the principle tenets of one's beliefs should vote for the motion as well.

Speaking personally, I support the institution of marriage as it has been comprised for centuries in our society. It is one of the basic institutions of our society and is the foundation upon which we have built our culture. This is the position I took in the previous Parliament during the debate on Bill C-38 and it is the position I continue to hold.

While I support protecting the rights of minorities that does not mean we should alter the institution of marriage which has worked well and has been an essential part of our society for so many years. I will therefore be voting in favour of the motion as a means to restore the traditional definition of marriage.

Although we are debating a government motion, I point out that the government has indicated that members can vote according to their conscience. Given the deeply held views that members have on both sides of the debate, the government believes it should be up to the House to decide in a truly free vote on whether we should initiate legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage.

The vote on today's motion will be a truly free vote for all members of the government's caucus, including ministers of the Crown. Unlike the previous government, our cabinet will not be whipped into voting one way or the other.

Speaking as the Minister for Democratic Reform, I am proud to be a member of a government that believes issues which touch on deeply felt personal beliefs should be decided by a truly free vote.

Given that members on both sides of the debate hold deeply felt personal views on this subject, we are asking members to reflect on their views and those of their constituents before deciding how to vote. This is ultimately a decision of the members of the House to decide on their own.

To conclude, the government looks forward to hearing the views of members on this issue and we hope that this will be a respectful debate. Although there are strongly held views on both sides of the debate, each member's point of view is valid and ought to be heard.

I therefore encourage all members to participate in the debate in this spirit. The government looks forward to receiving the House's decision on this matter.

Marriage
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the House leader speak on the motion. He made a lot about it being a free vote, even for his cabinet ministers.

I remember an important motion that was put in the House not very long ago, but there was no free vote for his cabinet. A cabinet minister had to resign because he would not support it. In my mind it is the responsibility of the government, if it does not agree with the laws of the nation, to bring forward differing laws and to put a bill before the House. Then cabinet solidarity is always asked for on those bills.

I believe it is disingenuous to say that there is a free vote when there is no bill. It is simply a motion before the House.

When the previous government brought it before the House, it did it in an honest and forthright way in the form of a bill and the parliamentary tradition of cabinet solidarity was kept at that time. I believe he is putting forward false premise to the public of Canada.

Marriage
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member is miserable or upset about the way his government conducted the vote on this matter about a year and a half ago, I do not blame him. I suppose in his position he wants to change the channel any way he can.

When that matter came before Parliament, I was very disappointed, as I am sure many Canadians were, by the position taken by the former government. This is an issue that is deeply felt. It strikes to the very being of many Canadians and what they believe is important or the way society should be structured.

At that time, when it became apparent that the government would whip its cabinet ministers, and I believe its parliamentary secretaries as well, they all seemed to support it. However, when I saw that one of my colleagues in the Liberal cabinet had to resign, I felt very badly for him.

Again, on an issue like this, that touches people so deeply, they should have a free vote.

However, I am not discouraged. A couple of days ago, the new Leader of the Opposition said, among other things, that the same sex marriage vote was a matter of fundamental rights and, therefore, he would whip his caucus. I guess that is one of the great things about debate. It looks like we are starting to get a bit of a consensus because I now heard now that they would have a free vote. It seems to me that even the members of his own party are coming to the same conclusion and they are drawing closer to what the government has been saying all along.

I am proud to be a part of a party and a part of a cabinet that allows, on a subject like this, a true free vote.

Again, it was a shame that was not the case back in July 2005. However, there is no reason now why that member cannot get up and support this. When the vote comes tomorrow, at about 3:00, I hope he stands up for what I believe he believes.

Marriage
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for our colleague.

Does he agree that this is basically an issue of rights and that the Supreme Court has ruled that it is not acceptable for a Parliament to deny same-sex couples access to marriage?

What if one of his loved ones, his daughter, for example, came home one day and announced that she was homosexual? Would he not want his child to grow and develop in the most gay-tolerant society possible?

If we, as parliamentarians, are questioning decisions that strike a balance on what the Supreme Court has stated is a rights issue, then does he agree that his government is not up to the task of acting with the generosity and tolerance people have a right to expect from those who have the responsibility to govern?

Once again, I invite him to really think about this. If one of his loved ones, his son or daughter, his nephew or niece, came to see him one day and he found out that person was homosexual, would he not be glad to be living in a more tolerant society? Does he not agree that parliamentarians are responsible for leading the way on this issue?

Marriage
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member covered a lot of ground in there and I am pleased to address one of the central points that he is making and one of the central misconceptions about this whole process with which we are dealing.

He indicated that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on this and that it was conclusive on this issue. That is absolutely wrong. The Supreme Court of Canada specifically did not make a ruling on this issue. There were lower court rulings with respect to this, but it was not the Supreme Court of Canada.

I challenge members and the hon. member is not the only one apparently under this misperception. I was watching television early this morning and one of the commentators said that this has been ruled conclusively on by the Supreme Court of Canada. That is absolutely incorrect.

I will give those members a task that I know would be impossible to complete. They cannot table the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that is definitive on this issue. They cannot do this because it does not exist.

I made this point one other time and it was said that there was a decision in one of the provincial courts or a number of provincial courts. I understand that. There have been court decisions on this, but the Supreme Court of Canada is the final court of appeal in this country and there is in fact no definitive decision.

Marriage
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the minister if he could tell me what is the crisis in marriage that the government is responding to? Have we seen any reason to reopen this debate at this point? Is there a decline in marriages? Are people abandoning the institution of marriage because of Bill C-38? Is there any documentation to show that there is any kind of a crisis in marriage?

Have any religious institutions, priests, rabbis or ministers been forced to marry a gay or lesbian couple when that was against their religious belief, their theology or their religious practice? What is the absolute crisis that necessitates us spending this debate time today and dealing with the possibility of reopening a long debate, when we have just completed that in the last Parliament with great diligence and great care?

Marriage
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raises an interesting point. If the hon. member recalls, I raised this point exactly about a year and a half ago. I said what was the rush to change the traditional definition of marriage by the members of his party and the previous government. What was the crisis?

The hon. member on another occasion will tell us how much he is against closure and so on, but his party joined with the government at that time to force this measure through by time allocation. I mentioned the fact that this was passed in July, however, we do not sit in July, but because of this so-called emergency to change the definition of marriage, that has been around for about 2,000 years at least, his party and the government wanted Parliament to sit through to the beginning of the summer break.

I throw that back to him. Why would they agree to closure? What was the crisis that we had to change it? It certainly was not, as I pointed out, the Supreme Court of Canada.

Marriage
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. House leader for his input. Throughout the discussion we have had outside of this place and here in the House, there seems to be an oversimplification of the motion before the House. The member twice said that the motion would open the debate on this issue, when in fact the motion says:

That this House call on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages.

I think there has been confusion in this debate, but this is not the end of it. This is the government. It has the authority to table legislation in the House. I would ask the House leader this question. If this motion is defeated, would the government undertake to introduce legislation in this House to reinstate the traditional definition of marriage? It has the authority and the ability to do it. Will the government introduce a bill?

Marriage
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what this motion is talking about. We are calling on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage. That is why we are asking for the support of the House. We are asking for the support of the hon. member to do that.

This is one of the points I wanted to make before I ran out of time on the last question. This is completely consistent with what we told the Canadian people that we would do. In fact, the Prime Minister, then leader of the opposition, made it clear on the very first day of the debate that he would bring in such a motion.

Again, I am proud to be part of a government that is prepared to do as it said it would do during the election. We are fulfilling that promise and we are giving this opportunity. I say to the hon. member, if he believes--

Marriage
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry but the time for questions and comments has expired.

The hon. member for Toronto Centre.

Marriage
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, like the hon. House leader, I had the opportunity and privilege of participating in the debate on the question of the adoption of the law permitting marriage of same sex couples last year.

I say the privilege because I was proud to participate in that debate. It was a serious debate, as the hon. House leader has suggested. While it was an emotional debate, members treated one another with respect, even those who disagreed with one another profoundly on religious grounds or in other ways. In many ways, the debate in the House last time was Parliament at its best.

I will always remember, for example, how the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie put it, as repeated today by the hon. member for Hochelaga: “—the religion of some should not become the law for others”.

However, as I listened to the House leader today, I respectfully suggest to the House leader that this motion is different. This is an underhanded political manoeuvre. Is the House leader proud of the headline of the Globe and Mail editorial this morning? “[Prime Minister]'s shoddy motion” is what the Globe and Mail editorial called what we are being asked to debate today in this House.

The government does not even want a real debate. It is not giving enough time. It has introduced the idea of civil unions, which as it knows is exclusively a provincial matter. It is a smokescreen. It says it is not trying to re-establish the very inequality that was struck down by our courts.

As the member for Wascana has pointed out, this is purely a procedural motion. It is a debate about whether ultimately we should have a debate. If the government wanted to take this matter seriously, it would have introduced legislation, but it knows the composition of this House and it knows such legislation would never be passed by this House.

Instead, it resorted to a manoeuvre that takes us nowhere. It is not designed to take us anywhere. It is designed to divide the House, to divide the members of the House, and divide the Canadian population on an issue that has been settled. It is designed to divide our nation on an issue that a majority of Canadians wish to move on from.

Everyone in the House knows that the courts have upheld this across the country, including the Supreme Court of Canada, eight provinces and territories. I will not name them, but I respectfully disagree with the hon. House leader. It is not true that the Supreme Court of Canada did not rule on this matter. The Supreme Court of Canada specifically said in its judgment that it would not, in any way, pronounce on the matter in a way that would overrule the findings of the lower courts, and those findings were conclusively in favour of overturning the prohibition against same sex marriage, as everybody knows.

I praise the government for saying it will not use the notwithstanding clause. I say to the hon. House leader that I hope that is an undertaking that the government is making, whether it is in opposition or in the future at any time, that it would never introduce such a bill by using this notwithstanding clause. However, without the notwithstanding clause, as everyone has pointed out, this same sex debate we are having today is, in the words of the columnists and the editorial writers such as Jeffrey Simpson of The Globe and Mail, “a meaningless charade”.

However, that said, let us take up the challenge. Let us remind ourselves of why we voted as we did the last time. Let us remind ourselves of our charter. Let us remind ourselves of the debates that we had in this House when we first introduced changes to the Criminal Code to protect gay and lesbian couples from being attacked on our streets, when we introduced the human rights code changes which ensured there would not be discrimination, and when we went on to ensure that people could get their pension rights and be treated equally if they had the same status as heterosexual couples that had civil unions.

What we saw throughout the country and through this House was a movement. We saw an evolving sense of our human rights and it came from our constituents as well, not just gay and lesbian constituents but from straight constituents, from all races and all religions. They came to us and came to a conclusion that society was enriched ultimately by treating all citizens equally.

I remember years ago learning that a certain newspaper in Toronto, which I would not describe as a left-wing newspaper, had a policy that it would pay equal amounts to people who had same sex unions because it wanted to attract the best possible employees.

This is not just about equality. This is about creating a society which will be a richer society when everybody can participate in it and feel equal in it.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister avoided answering the question of the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora, who wanted to know whether he thought that our society or the institution of marriage had suffered from the legislation permitting same sex marriage. It is the same question just asked by our colleague in the NDP.

I would like to suggest that the Prime Minister and his hon. members, who do not seem to understand the realities of the modern world in which we live, should go and take part in the gay pride parade in my city of Toronto, or elsewhere in the country.

To their great surprise, they would find grandmothers and children of all ethnic groups and representatives of multicultural organizations from all over participating enthusiastically. Why do they do this? They are taking part in something that celebrates our humanity, tolerance, respect for other people and ability to understand one another.

Some members of this House think that same sex marriage spells the end of society as we know it, that it shakes society to its core. I say to these hon. members that they should ask the Canadians who take their children to gay pride parades and deliberately put them in contact with this modern reality what they think of this celebration of our common humanity.

I have been a parliamentarian for many years and have followed all the debates about recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians, including amendments to the Criminal Code, to the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to Bill C-23, which gave equal rights to common-law spouses and entitled them to pensions. Some participants in these debates painted the most apocalyptic scenarios for our society, our children and the institution of marriage.

Far removed from all dogma, I believe personally that we should follow this debate with humanity and compassion, animated by a spirit of openness, inclusion and respect and with tremendous confidence in humanity’s ability to make changes to society out of deep respect for our differences. We should ponder the lessons of history. The same fears, the same dire scenarios were conjured up when interracial marriages were allowed in the United States or the Divorce Act was passed in Canada not so very long ago. We all remember that.

Our country’s history clearly shows that in the face of profound sociological change, Parliament has often crystallized the irreversible changes already seen in society, but has never jumped the gun. Parliament has always been able to adapt to deep-seated new movements in our society.

I will therefore in all humility as a parliamentarian and legislator be guided by the wisdom, tolerance and confidence expressed by our forefathers and foremothers who said yes to social progress and no to all the apocalyptic scenarios conjured up. I can only humble encourage all my parliamentary colleagues to do the same and recognize not only this reality but also the fact that Canadians accept it.

Times have changed and we must move on. The House has moved on and the country has moved on. Under the present law, religious institutions are protected while all others are included.

We join countries like the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and others. Let us think of South Africa and imagine the example this would send to a country like South Africa if we were to reverse ourselves on the fundamental principle of human rights. Why would this country, a beacon to others around the world on human rights, reverse itself and go backward in time? What kind of an example would that be to South Africa and dozens of other countries that are looking to us as an example?

Let us solemnly undertake in the House today that we have debated this issue and that we will move on. I respectfully ask the Prime Minister, his party and his colleagues in his caucus to promise this House and this country that this will be the last time, that this is not just a strategy for another election issue, that they will not inflict this agony on gay and lesbian Canadians, and that they will tell them that this will end and that our social cohesion will no longer be roiled by threats to the droits acquis once and for all.

A week ago Monday, this House voted on a motion about our country and we all spoke movingly about our country. We voted in that debate and at the end of that debate we voted to be inclusive.

I remember the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie speaking with great emotion about how her identities as a Quebecker and a Canadian fit perfectly together.

Many others have spoken in the same vein saying that their identity as Quebeckers and their identity as Canadians are perfectly in harmony. We should ask ourselves whether after tomorrow's vote the gay and lesbian communities will be able to say the same? Will they say that their personal identity and their national identity are compatible and even complementary? Will they be proud to be both and proud to play a role in our society? If they feel anything less than that and less than their fellow citizens, I believe we will have failed our constituents, our country and future generations of Canadians who are asking us to continue to create this country as a place where we live with one another in respect and tolerance and show a light to the rest of the world which will enable them and us to move on to other issues of importance and move away from the traditional, I say hatreds, the traditional fears of the past. Let us move on from the past and let us move to the future in a way that is Canadian and in a way that is respectful to our charter and of our fellow citizens.

Marriage
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, does the member opposite feel that a small first nations community in Canada would be able to define marriage according to its culture under the existing law?