Mr. Speaker, this is my second opportunity to put a few words on the record with regard to Bill C-33.
This bill, as members know, has raised very high emotions in many members of Parliament on both sides of the issue. There have been some words spoken and actions taken that will reverberate long after this bill is forgotten and the House moves on to something else, which is the way this place works. Whatever is top of mind today is not top of mind tomorrow.
The concern that many people in our country have with this bill is the way in which the government brought this bill forward, carried it through the House, through committee and back into the House again. It does not bring credit upon this House or upon our country.
It does not give the citizens of Canada the benefit of the doubt that we could make a reasoned decision, that we could come together in harmony, that we could do what is right for all people connected to this issue. Those Canadians who are part of the gay and lesbian community may feel that this is just a small but important step, one which is long overdue and which will give them equality before the law just as everyone else has. Other Canadians, most of whom are in the middle, are not all that
exercised one way or the other. Then on the other side of the scale we have those Canadians who feel this is a very dramatic change on the social mores of our country and should be considered carefully before we go forward.
The tragedy of this debate, in the pell-mell rush to get the bill through, is that people on both sides feel somewhat trampled, particularly people who oppose this bill who are said to be in some way discriminatory, or that they are homophobic, or that they are somehow unkind and mean-spirited people. If people in our country do not have the opportunity to have their voices heard in Parliament, why should they then feel that they are part of Parliament? Why should they feel that they are represented?
We are not cheerleaders. Our job is not to stand and say that whatever the government or any group brings forward is just fine. Our job is to measure, to temper and to test the laws as they come forward.
We know in a majority government that at the end of the day our country will have a law that exactly represents the will of the government even if that government is elected with 43 per cent of the popular vote. That is the way our government works and that is the way it is. We have to accept that.
I know many people from the gay and lesbian community honestly feel that to even question the veracity of this bill or the honesty by which it has been brought forward is in some way deprecating our fellow citizens who are gay or lesbian.
I know there has been debate in the House which has tried to make the point to link certain unlawful activities with homosexuality. However, nothing could be further from the truth. It is not right. It is not fair. We have to distinguish and separate what is lawful in our country and what is not. It is not made lawful because of adding two words to the human rights act to include the words "sexual orientation".
I speak for myself, but there are many in the House who understand that the nature of family in the country has changed dramatically over the years. We know there are families which are composed very differently.
In committee the member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve brought forward his definition of family. It is particularly beautiful. His definition of family is people who are joined together under the common bonds of love, mutual support and mutual protection. That description aptly describes the nuclear family. One would hope it would be the foundation of the description of the family.
Families change as many people in the House know. My family is not a nuclear family. I have been divorced twice and married three times. It is not something I am proud of. We do not have a traditional family, but we do have a family that has love, mutual support and mutual protection. Our extended family has that as well.
Our eldest daughter was adopted. At 21 her adoptive parents supported her in finding her birth mother. We got to know one another. We were visiting with her adoptive parents and as would happen, friends of her parents asked who these people were. Greg was stuck for an answer so he said they were special relatives. We thought about it and about the relationship we have as a family and the strength that Kate's mother Nancy had in supporting her to find her birth mother. Nancy said it did not take a lot of strength and courage.
How can we possibly hurt someone by loving them? How can we love someone too much? How could it possibly hurt if another family loves a person?
No one can tell me anything about the nature of families and mutual support and how important it is for us to be flexible and as a society to be open and supportive, even if these relationships are not ones we feel comfortable about. It is really none of our business. On the other side of the coin, marriage and family have a longstanding societal and religious significance. That should not be taken lightly either. That is the essence of this debate.
In my view, it would have been far more difficult for me to come to the decision, and it has been a very difficult journey for me, to vote against the bill if it had been brought forward honestly and dealt with the real issues at hand. The real issues in my view are not the issues surrounding discrimination. We are all protected from discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We are all protected against discrimination today by virtue of the fact that we are human beings.
However, this bill introduces two words, sexual orientation, into the statutes of our country. The effect of introducing those two words will be to give a foundation to the courts to further continue to interpret laws which would essentially support putting same sex relationships on the same plane as heterosexual relationships.
If that is what we as a country want to do, then let us do it. Let us bring forward legislation that states exactly that and debate it on its merits. Let us not do it in a Trojan horse fashion saying that this is legislation designed to prevent discrimination, that anyone who would vote against it would obviously be in favour of discrimination and not acknowledging that what is sure to follow has not been brought forward honestly into this debate.
Had that debate come forward, this House may have been able to find a way to accommodate both sides. I mentioned in the House previously the notion of a registered domestic partnership. If this is not the intent of the government, it would have been possible for the government to have written the legislation initially to accommodate the concerns of people who feel threatened by it. It could have limited the scope of the legislation explicitly to human rights issues or it could have accepted considered and reasoned amendments which would have done so.
If these amendments were accepted, it would have allowed many more Canadians to support the bill. I believe most Canadians are pretty charitable. Most Canadians would have nothing to do with discrimination against anyone, including by virtue of someone's sexual orientation.
A private member's bill was tabled today in the House. Its preamble states: "An act providing for equal treatment for persons cohabiting in a relationship similar to a conjugal relationship". There is nothing wrong with that being brought forward. It is entirely appropriate that such a bill would be brought forward. However, it is evidence of the fact that this debate is not over.
The people with whom I have had contact in the gay and lesbian community would be the very first to say that it is not over. They will press their case, as they have the right to do, as hard as they possibly can until the battle is won. I want to put on record that from my point of view the people from the gay and lesbian community with whom I have had any contact have been absolutely forthright and absolutely honest in their intent in what they are trying to achieve and why they are trying to achieve it. There has been absolutely no suggestion otherwise.
As with many members, I find myself greatly discomforted in voting against this bill. None of us should in any way want to have our hands in anything that would discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or for any reason, although we are dealing specifically now with sexual orientation.
At the same time I am charged with the responsibility of representing not just my constituents who are concerned about the impact of this bill, but all Canadians who are concerned about this bill. When I rise this evening to vote against the bill it will not be with any sense of satisfaction or joy; it will be with considerable sadness and with a heavy heart.
I know there will be people who will think that my doing so is a repudiation of them as human beings or that in some way I am making a value judgment. I am not. I recognize and I accept that people are born the way people are born. We are who we are and that is the way it is. I celebrate love and companionship. Who am I to tell anybody else how or whom they should love? However, that does not allow me to forget my responsibilities to the people who sent me here and the obligations I bring to this high office.
In a few short hours we will be voting on this bill. There will be many people in the months to come who may say that we would have been wise to have given more consideration to exactly what we are doing. The House gave the same consideration to the $2 coin as it has to this fundamental question. This is a question which is fundamental to many Canadians on both sides of the issue.