Mr. Speaker, having listened to much of the debate that has occurred so far this evening, I must say that there are a couple of points that I fail to understand. I fail to understand the point of view of individuals who feel that recognizing same gender civil marriage somehow threatens the traditional definition of religious marriage. I do not mix those two up and I do not understand the comparison.
At the same time, there has been much said from the official opposition that somehow we should not have this debate, that somehow, simply because there is a piece of legislation passed, Parliament has no right nor obligation nor responsibility ever to look at that issue again.
I would be of the mind frame that would rather we did not open this issue. I am not ashamed to say that. I quite believe in what I say. At the same time, for my colleagues who share my point of view, I would urge them to debate this issue on the merits of the issue, not on trying to characterize one party as being ideologically to one side or the other, or one party being right and one party being wrong but to actually debate the merits of the issue.
Can we debate the issue? Of course we can. We have the responsibility as parliamentarians to have a free, open and respectful debate in this House. I believe, quite frankly, we could do that if we strive to do that.
For me, the issue of same sex civil marriage is settled. It has been settled by the courts and it has been settled by the Parliament of Canada. It was publicly debated for two and a half years and in 2003 our justice committee from the Parliament of Canada held nationwide hearings. We debated this issue to the limit of tolerance in the House of Commons.
Previous to this debate, our provincial courts, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, the Supreme Court of New Brunswick, the Supreme Court of Ontario, the Supreme Court of Quebec and Yukon Territory had already recognized same gender civil marriage. Eight provinces and one territory in this country recognized same gender civil marriage before Bill C-38 was passed by the Parliament of Canada.
The Parliament of Canada had a responsibility either to recognize same gender civil marriage or challenge the lower court hearings at the Supreme Court. It chose not to challenge. The provinces did not challenge it. There was no reason to challenge it.
I think, with respect, that Canadians have already made their minds up on this debate. I believe Canadians are a generous and open society. I believe that at the beginning of this debate there was a lot of division. There was a lot of ignorance. There was a lot of intolerance. The good thing about this debate is that it has absolutely shelved a lot of that. It has allowed people of common spirit and good will to find a cooperative approach to this issue, to recognize the value in one another's points of view, and quite frankly, to move on in a positive way.
If only Conservative voters had been polled, I think we would have found a discrepancy. Perhaps the majority of Conservative voters were actually opposed to same gender civil marriage. However, if those same voters were polled today, as has been done, in Atlantic Canada in particular but in the country as a whole, it is now fifty-fifty. There are 47% of voters for and 47% of voters against same gender civil marriage. I would conclude that has changed. Through this bill, the debate and discussion around same gender civil marriage has become more open, more inclusive and more tolerant.
If we look in particular at Atlantic Canadians, 69% of them are opposed to re-opening this debate. That is from an Environics poll. That is not a poll that someone made up. That is a legitimate, open and important poll that has to be put on the record in this debate.
Allow me to be clear on a couple of issues. I keep hearing about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What does the Charter of Rights and Freedoms say? Subparagraph 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives extremely clear and unambiguous protection for religious freedom. People who say differently, I would concur are using scare tactics. Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples in Canada will decide their own futures on religious marriage, as they should and as they have up to this point.
It is extremely important to mention that we have already had same gender religious marriage prior to passing Bill C-38 in Canada. There has been same gender religious marriage for years in the United Church of Canada and in some of the Anglican Churches in Canada. Parliament had an obligation to extend the same right that was protected by the right of religion to civil unions or civil marriages, and it did that as it had that responsibility.
The previous bill was timely and warranted. Not only that but it was a responsibility that Parliament had. I was surprised at the time. I have seen a lot of Liberal legislation come through the House and for the first time we had a bill that had real clarity of language, lacked ambiguity, and opened the door to an extension of tolerance enjoyed by all Canadians to a certain group in society when we recognized same gender marriage. Most importantly, at the same time there was clear protection for religious marriage because of the protection of the charter. We have moved forward in an important way.
Before closing I would like to say that I cannot agree that this motion would restore the traditional definition of marriage because, quite frankly, the so-called traditional definition of marriage is not, has not, and will not be threatened.
I believe that if this motion were to pass, it would immediately lead to a court challenge that would put this issue on the table for years. What are we going to do with the 12,000 gay and lesbian couples who have already married in this country? How can we take a right away from them or provide a right to others that we cannot extend to gay and lesbian couples? It is very problematic.
I know firsthand the entrenched views of many people who would deny the right of civil marriage to same gender couples. Yet, I know there is a lot of tolerance in this country. Often I hear there is less tolerance in rural Canada and I frankly disagree with that.
I think rural Canada is even more tolerant than the rest of the country. We have a long and proud history of being tolerant of our neighbours and of other points of view. I will say in this place that we should extend that tolerance to all people in Canada.