Mr. Speaker, I rise to respond to the motion this morning on behalf of the Government of Canada.
Let me clearly state that the Government of Canada will be supporting the motion in the House today. The fact that we will be supporting the motion should come as a surprise to no one. I would like to thank the hon. member for tabling the motion for the consideration of the House and for giving the government the opportunity to clarify our position on this important issue.
We on this side agree that the institution of marriage is a central and important institution in the lives of many Canadians. It plays an important part in all societies worldwide, second only to the fundamental importance of family to all of us.
The institution of marriage is of great importance to large numbers of Canadians, and the definition of marriage as found in the hon. member's motion is clear in law.
As stated in the motion, the definition of marriage is already clear in law. It is not found in a statute, but then not all law exists in statutes, and the law is no less binding and no less the law because it is found in the common law instead of in a statute.
The definition of marriage, which has been consistently applied in Canada, comes from an 1866 British case which holds that marriage is “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. That case and that definition are considered clear law by ordinary Canadians, by academics and by the courts. The courts have upheld the constitutionality of that definition.
The Ontario court, general division, recently upheld in Layland and Beaulne the definition of marriage. In that decision a majority of the court stated the following:
—unions of persons of the same sex are not “marriages”, because of the definition of marriage. The applicants are, in effect, seeking to use s. 15 of the Charter to bring about a change in the definition of marriage. I do not think the Charter has that effect.
One may then ask why we are here today and why we are using the already limited time of the House to debate a motion, on which, I suspect, there will be no fundamental disagreement inside or outside the House.
I am aware, as are other ministers, that recent court decisions and resulting media coverage have raised concern around the issue of same sex partners. It appears that the hon. member believes that the motion is both necessary and effective as a means to keep the Government of Canada from suddenly legislating the legalization of same sex marriages. That kind of misunderstanding of the intention of the government should be corrected.
Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages. No jurisdiction worldwide defines a legal marriage as existing between same sex partners. Even those few European countries such as Denmark, Norway and Holland, which have recently passed legislation giving recognition to same sex relationships and extending some of the same benefits and responsibilities as available to married spouses, maintain a clear distinction in the law between marriage and same sex registered partnerships.
Norway's ministry published a statement in 1994 that makes this distinction clear. Although a same sex relationship may have many of the same needs, the Norwegian government clarified that it, the same sex partnership, can
—never be the same as marriage, neither socially nor from a religious point of view. (Registered partnership) does not replace or compete with heterosexual marriage—(and the) opportunity for homosexuals to register their partnerships will not lead to more people opting for homosexual relationships rather than marriage.
I fundamentally do not believe that it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate the equality issues around same sex partners which now face us as Canadians. The courts have ruled that some recognition must be given to the realities of unmarried cohabitation in terms of both opposite sex and same sex partners.
I strongly believe that the message to the government and to all Canadian governments from the Canadian public is a message of tolerance, fairness and respect for others.
For those who remain concerned, I would point out that recent surveys of young people indicate that marriage has not gone out of style in Canada. The majority of young people still expect to marry. The marriage rate is still similar to that of the 1920s, although a rising number are re-marriages, and that Canadian marriages still on average last longer than those in the United States.
The motion speaks of taking all necessary steps to preserve the definition of marriage in Canada. While I and the government support the motion, I feel strongly that marriage is already very clear in Canadian minds and in Canadian law, and that there is little that the House must do as a necessary step to in any way add to the clarity of the law.
Marriage has fundamental value and importance to Canadians and we do not believe on this side of the House that importance and value is in any way threatened or undermined by others seeking to have their long term relationships recognized. I support the motion for maintaining the clear legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
At this time I would like to move an amendment to the motion. I move:
That the motion be amended by inserting after the word “steps” the words “within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”.