Mr. Speaker, before I get to my notes I want to rebut a couple of points we heard in the impassioned speech made by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
The member said there was no ability to appeal. We know that is not true. When the first lower court ruled, the Liberal government at the time had the ability to seek an appeal of that decision. The government chose not to. We are talking about choices. The member needs to be clear and completely truthful with the Canadian people. He says that the government wants to be respectful in this debate, so he needs to tell Canadians that the government chose not to seek to appeal those lower court decisions.
Further, I submit that there is no evidence, none, that if Parliament had indeed drafted, introduced, debated and passed legislation to protect the traditional definition of marriage the Supreme Court would not have upheld it without resorting to the notwithstanding clause. There is no evidence that this scenario would not have taken place. I want refute the hon. member's assertions while I appreciate the member jumping into the debate and adding to what he calls a filibuster. We have enjoyed the debate from all sides of the House.
I consider myself very fortunate to have a further opportunity to debate Bill C-38, legislation with such far-reaching implications for the institution of marriage and all of society. As the elected representative for Prince George—Peace River, I believe it is my responsibility and duty to clearly state my opposition to this legislation and my support for the traditional definition of marriage. Whenever possible I will continue to defend this position I have taken on behalf of my constituents.
We must be conscious that the actions we take with regard to this legislation to expand the definition of marriage to include same sex couples will have a tremendous impact on the future of Canadian society. We do not fully understand the magnitude of what this legislation will have done to our society 10, 15 or 20 years from now. What will we have left future generations to deal with? We do not have all the answers. Certainly there are many theories about how same sex marriage will or will not affect the future of our nation. We have heard many of those theories laid out here in this chamber in great detail during this debate.
However, what I would like to discuss today concerns what we do know. What we know is that this legislation poses a serious threat to religious freedoms in our country. Why do I know this? Because we have already seen it happen as a consequence of other legislation pertaining to homosexual rights.
Before I continue, I would like to unequivocally state that I believe homosexual couples should be afforded the same rights and privileges enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Of that, there is no doubt. However, same sex marriage is not a rights issue, despite what the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell has just said.
I will elaborate on this point later, but first let me say I am concerned that in its rush to address what it mistakenly calls a right, the federal Liberal government is placing in serious jeopardy the right of religious freedom, not that the government has not exerted great efforts to convince Canadians that priests, church ministers, rabbis or imams will not face prosecution or other legal sanction for the refusal to conduct marriage ceremonies for same sex couples.
This government and this justice minister emphatically deny that the congregations or members of churches, synagogues, mosques or other institutions of religious worship will find the activities of their place of worship beholden to this legislation. The government and some supporters of this legislation have dismissed these concerns as being driven by fearmongering, hatred and even homophobia.They allege that raising the possibility that religious freedoms would be compromised by the extension of marriage to same sex couples is a scare tactic on the part of those of us opposed to the legislation.
The justice minister has assured us that Bill C-38 will sufficiently protect religious freedoms. With all due respect, we have heard similar assurances before, most recently when Bill C-250, legislation designed to include sexual orientation under hate crime laws, was debated before this House during the last Parliament. At that time, many of us feared that priests, rabbis, imams and other religious officials would face accusations of spreading hatred or contempt simply by quoting from the Bible or the Koran, for example. At that time, this government told Canadians that would never happen.
The government claimed that a clause in Bill C-250 would afford sufficient protection to religious organizations and leaders and that they would not be punished simply for following or repeating the words of their faith. Bill C-250 received royal assent on April 29, 2004 and now, a little over a year later, Calgary Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry is facing two complaints filed with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission for publishing statements which are “likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt”.
When this same government tells us that a religious leader like Bishop Henry will be sufficiently protected under a clause in Bill C-38 that is similar to one that was supposed to protect him under Bill C-250, one could understand that we are extremely doubtful of that protection. Bishop Henry is not alone. In my home province of British Columbia a Catholic church congregation faces a complaint before the B.C. human rights commission because it refused to allow a lesbian couple the use of its parish hall for the couple's wedding reception. This is not fearmongering; this is reality.
I would like the justice minister to meet Bishop Henry face to face, or stand before the congregation of that B.C. church and attempt to reassure its members that Bill C-38 will adequately protect them. In fact, it is not only misleading to claim that religious freedoms will be protected under Bill C-38; these claims are not even supported by the Supreme Court of Canada.
At this juncture I would like to take the opportunity to remind members of the House and all Canadians that contrary to what the government would like the country to believe, the Supreme Court did not make a determination on the definition of marriage. The court not only refused to decide whether the traditional definition of marriage was a violation of the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it made it perfectly clear that it is up to Parliament to decide. The Supreme Court told members of Parliament, our constituents' elected representatives, that we were to choose in this important social policy matter.
Further, the Supreme Court also ruled after examining the federal government's draft legislation, that its provision claiming to protect religious freedoms was outside the jurisdiction of the federal Parliament. In essence the Supreme Court said that the same clause the government is using in its attempt to reassure Canadians about their religious freedoms is in fact useless.
On that note, I would again like to emphasize the need for respectful and honest debate as we proceed debating Bill C-38. It is more than a little misleading for the Prime Minister and the justice minister to tell Canadians that the Supreme Court or the charter left them with no choice but to introduce this legislation to extend the definition of marriage to same sex couples. This is simply false. In fact, since our own Supreme Court has refused to rule on the definition of marriage, let us take a brief look at court rulings that have actually been made throughout the world in terms of same sex marriage.
In 1998 the European court of justice ruled “stable relationships between two persons of the same sex are not regarded as equivalent to marriages”.
In 1996 the New Zealand court of appeal rejected the recognition of same sex marriages despite that country's bill of rights which lists sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination. The New Zealand ruling was appealed to the United Nations human rights commission. The commission ruled in 2003 that there was no case for discrimination simply on the basis of refusing to marry homosexual couples.
To date, no international human rights body and no national supreme court, including the Supreme Court of Canada, has ever found that there is a human right to same sex marriage. Same sex marriage is not a right. Freedom of religion, however, is a right, a right which I believe is very much in jeopardy. I am very dismayed that the government will not accept what is going on in the real world, that it will not accept the reality faced by Bishop Henry in Calgary and the very real fear of prosecution of religious leaders for whom performing same sex marriage is a violation of their faith.
I repeat that the Supreme Court indicated that the federal government's legislative assurances that priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders will not face prosecution are very empty assurances indeed. What will religious leaders face 10 or 20 years from now as a result of the actions we are taking today?
No matter how MPs choose to act, I ask that they follow their consciences and those of their constituents. I would also ask that they do not base their decisions upon the government's false claims that the legislation sufficiently protects religious freedoms. It does not, and that is one more reason why I remain vehemently opposed to Bill C-38.