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House of Commons Hansard #240 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

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1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It was really difficult for me to capture your eye but I had to interrupt.

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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in making some of his points, the hon. whip for the opposition used a very moving story about a soldier who went off to Bosnia but was married just prior to leaving. I understand the point of the story to be that it made it easier for the widow to collect benefits by virtue of the fact that they had gone through the actual marriage ceremony.

I would like to ask him in the most serious of ways, what if that soldier who went away and was killed was part of a long term homosexual relationship, a long, stable, loving relationship? Maybe they co-owned a home and had joint assets. Then the soldier went away and had the terrible accident with the mine. Does the hon. member think that the grieving spouse in that relationship should have access to the same benefits as the spouse in the member's story?

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1:15 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member did get the point of my original story. Because of the marriage contract, so to speak, and the fact that a marriage has taken place, the state has said that all the waiting periods and all the proving of conjugality are set aside. They do not have to prove they are sleeping together. They do not have to prove it is a long term commitment. They do not have to go through a two or three year waiting period. They do not have to have children. The marriage ceremony brings with it a certain legitimacy which happens the moment the documents are signed. Not to belittle other relationships, marriage brings with it legitimacy and carries it from that moment forward.

The member put forward a hypothetical case. The idea of long term relationships and dependent relationships is an issue which probably deserves another debate in the House. I encourage the member and his party to bring it forward. Other members have brought forward the idea that we should base our benefits on dependency rather than on marriage.

I used the example because marriage brings with it something special which has been recognized for eons. The moment the ink is dry and the couple runs out of the church under a shower of confetti, that moment is special. It is special not only in the church, not only before the state, but it is special between the two people. For the marriage definition, those two people are a man and a woman.

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1:20 p.m.

Reform

Maurice Vellacott Reform Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is remarkable that we should even be debating this in the House of Commons today but I take real delight in addressing the motion that has been put forward and I gladly affirm it.

When one thinks of the glue that holds societies together, one cannot help but think of the institution of marriage and the family unit which is the fundamental building block of society.

The motion the Reform Party put forward today speaks to the current legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. In putting forward this motion the Reform Party is simply affirming or echoing its longstanding policy that marriage is the union of a man and a woman as recognized by the state.

Why are we debating such a topic? Why are we spending time discussing something that would seem to be so self-evident? There has been a chronology of events over the last number of months.

Some people believe that the institution of marriage is in danger of being radically changed in law due to recent court rulings. As we all know, a series of court decisions have been made in which various kinds of benefits previously restricted to heterosexual couples have now been extended to gay partners.

A year ago in the Rosenberg decision the Ontario Court of Appeal changed the Income Tax Act to extend pension benefits to gay partners. Just last month the supreme court declared in its M. v H. ruling that gay partners are subject to the alimony provisions of Ontario's Family Law Act. Some people believe that marriage will be the next to fall and that gay marriages may be just on the horizon or just around the corner. This does not need to be the case and should not be the case in my view.

We are here today to affirm both in debate and by means of a vote that there is no necessary connection between extending benefits to gay partners and legalizing same sex marriage. Some people will want to see a connection between them but there does not have to be and there ought not to be.

Let me quote the justice minister on this point. In an April 24, 1998 letter she stated:

I continue to believe that it is not necessary to change well-understood concepts of spouse and marriage to deal with any fairness considerations the courts and tribunals may find.

That statement clearly distinguishes between the extension of benefits, which is what the courts have been ruling on, and the definition of marriage, which is what they have not been ruling on. The conclusion drawn by the justice minister is that homosexual individuals can be treated fairly without having to alter the definition of marriage.

The Prime Minister of the land made the same point in a May 21, 1999 press release which responded to the M. v H. decision. He said:

We believe that it is not necessary to redefine concepts like marriage in order to ensure access to benefits and obligations for people in committed relationships in a way that is fair to all Canadians.

Clearly the government and the Reform Party are in agreement that gay marriage is not a logical progression from recent court rulings on questions of benefits. They are different issues that belong in different categories.

I want to address the question of why it is that marriage is a unique institution that deserves to be guarded and strengthened in our nation. The institution of marriage has brought great benefits to our society. In the vast majority of marriages, children are brought into the world providing our country with its future citizens, workers, leaders, mothers and fathers, and so it goes.

Marriages provide the most stable, enduring context for the development of individuals during the formative years of childhood and thereafter on through their teenage years. A mom and a dad have an influence on a son or a daughter well on into their adult life.

It has been proven statistically that families in which the parents are married are the most stable families. That is a documented fact. In this way marital relationships contribute to the dignity, the stability, the peace and prosperity of the family and of the greater society.

Why does a marriage bring these benefits, we ask. When a man and a woman enter into the marriage relationship, it is almost always for the express purpose of making a lifelong commitment which will form the basis of family life and the environment in which children will be reared.

I have had the privilege over a decade and a half in a previous life of officiating at marriage ceremonies, as the one solemnizing that marriage. It has been a awesome privilege to watch the groom and the bride stare into each other's eyes as their emotions well up. On those many occasions I found myself being caught up in the significance of that very momentous occasion when a man and a woman come together to commit their lives together. I would say in all of those cases and in the premarital counselling that preceded, although marriages do break down, it was the intent of the two coming together that it be a lifelong commitment to one another, a loving relationship in richness and in poverty, in sickness and in health and so on as the marriage vows go.

Even though regrettably marriages sometimes break down, the fact that marriage relationships are much more stable than common law relationships makes one thing very clear: very few people enter into the marriage relationship flippantly. It has been my experience and the experience of many others whom I have talked to, colleagues and numerous other people, that most have carefully thought about that commitment, some more than others. They thought about the commitment they were making and they said those vows sincerely and solemnly. They realized that they were participating in something much larger than themselves, something that most Canadians from various religious backgrounds believe is designed by God.

My point here is simply that people are serious when they get married. This seriousness and depth of commitment to the marriage is what benefits the children who are born and raised in that context in those stable families. That is of great benefit to all of society.

Because of the way in which the institution of marriage benefits society, we need to guard it, we need to protect it and we need to promote it. The institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman must be preserved, protected and promoted in both the private and the public realms. It would be foolish to undermine the uniqueness of the marriage relationship. Any society that does so risks losing the benefits that have come to society from marriage and from the high regard in which it has always been held.

Of course some people are not thinking about the health of the larger society when they are willing to sacrifice the societal benefits that come from marriage in order to engage in a form of social experimentation. Such people may regard marriage as little more than a form of self-expression, but marriage must not, marriage cannot be reduced to that level. It is much more than a form of self-expression. It is the glue, some would say the crazy glue that holds society together today and lays the groundwork for the society of tomorrow.

The institution of marriage is not something to be toyed with. Were we to abandon the uniqueness of marriage, I am convinced that we would pay a heavy price for such social experimentation. We would be killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Down the road, two decades from now or whatever number of years down the road, we would be looking back and we would rue the day that the slide began and that decisive moment of change occurred. We must not go down that road and have to pick up the pieces later.

To tinker with the institution of marriage would send the wrong message. First, it would send the wrong message to our young people. Surveys have shown that young people are actually more optimistic about relationships and starting a family some day than even many of their parents were. This optimism is good. It needs to be encouraged.

Second, were the institution of marriage to be changed, we would be sending a wrong message to common law couples who have children and are contemplating making a lifelong commitment to each other in marriage, that formal commitment, that celebration and that actual ceremony before the public.

Obviously many couples who are married today were formally living together in common law relationships and at some point decided to commit themselves to each other in marriage, which is something to be encouraged and welcomed. The children in such relationships can only benefit and society in turn benefits.

The motion we have considered today is an important one. It seeks to defend the current legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. In putting forth the motion, the Reform Party is simply echoing its long-standing policy that marriage is the union of a man and a woman as recognized by the state. It is monogamous. It is one man and one woman for life. Opposite sex, is defined as well.

We look forward to the vote tonight and to see the House affirm that long-standing, age old, historic definition of marriage.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judi Longfield Liberal Whitby—Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion before us from the member for Calgary Centre is pretty straightforward. It asks that the House reaffirm its commitment to marriage with the legal definition of marriage as being the union between one man and one woman. Quite frankly, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that I support this 100%. What is regrettable is that the motion has taken on a life other than what it should be.

The whole idea of survivor benefits and what we are doing in other pieces of legislation needs a full and wholesome debate on its own. That is the subject of another debate and I would not want to see it confused.

I have great difficulty with pieces of legislation that deal with conjugal relations because I do not think survivor benefits should be based on one's sleeping habits or who one is sleeping with. There are other ways to define who might be the recipient of a survivor benefit. It in no way demeans other kinds of relationships. What we are talking about here is the legal definition of marriage.

I do not have a question so much as a comment. I do not think it is inappropriate that we, in this House of Parliament, state for one and all our reaffirmation that marriage is the union between one man and one woman.

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1:30 p.m.

Reform

Maurice Vellacott Reform Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the affirmation of the member across the way. The whole intent and point of the debate is to make it very clear to the public and have it on the record that we are defending, affirming, strongly avowing and supporting the institution of marriage and the traditional view of it.

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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too have no problem supporting the motion, but I have a question for the hon. member.

Many Canadians of the Muslim faith are allowed to marry more than one woman. The motion defines marriage as being the union between only one man and one woman. How would this affect a person of the Muslim faith if he is married to more than one woman? Would that be defined as a family by this motion or would there be a different category for them?

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1:30 p.m.

Reform

Maurice Vellacott Reform Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring to the attention of the member, as he is obviously aware, that within Canada, this great Dominion of ours from sea to sea to sea, monogamy between one man and one woman is the law. That is the rule.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I also want to acknowledge that I support the term of marriage as a union of a single man and a single woman. However, I do think other issues have been brought into this as well.

Can the hon. member tell me what he would perceive as the relationship of same sex couples and whether or not they should receive the same benefits that married couples receive? Should that be the case, or is the issue that we want to affirm marriage and make sure that same sex couples never have the same benefits that married people have? Does he have another term that may be used for the commitment that same sex couples show to each other?

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1:35 p.m.

Reform

Maurice Vellacott Reform Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, for the purposes of our debate today, we are of course debating the marriage definition itself.

The member raised a very valid question. Her party may put it forward on a future day that it should not be based on sexual involvement or a conjugal relationship, but we would also need to know the cost. The public would then have to be engaged in the debate to determine if that were in the greater societal interest. There would also have to be a full debate the House of Commons, and I would encourage that.

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know that when a man with more than one wife applies for immigration status in Canada, he is disqualified by this motion from being called a family. If a Muslim family from the Middle East or anywhere else applies to come to Canada with more than one wife, the hon. member is basically asking them to drop the other wives at home, break up the family and come back here.

The hon. member must address this issue before we vote on the subject. It is a very important issue.

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1:35 p.m.

Reform

Maurice Vellacott Reform Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, does the hon. member want to put forward a motion to the effect of affirming polygamy in our country? I am not exactly sure of his intent. However, as our law presently states, a marriage is between one man and one woman. It has been long held in our Judeo-Christian setting.

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington.

I think this is an important debate and I am pleased that the hon. member has brought the issue to the House. The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

I would like to take this opportunity to comment on the public debate around the recent court decisions, in particular to talk about those decisions and suggest some steps that we must next take.

In my view, parliament has been silent too long on this issue and has, by its neglect, deferred to others in areas of intense controversy among Canadians. The leading decision in the field is Egan and Nesbit, which was a challenge to the spousal allowance provisions of the Old Age Security Act. In May 1995, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal of Egan and Nesbit by a 5:4 margin.

The court, however, was unanimous in its view that sexual orientation was an analogous ground and triggered section 15 protection. A 5:4 majority found that the spousal issue discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and therefore infringed section 15. However, a different 5:4 majority found that the discrimination was justified under section 1 of the charter. The conclusion appeared to be based, at least in part, on the view that the court should be reluctant to interfere in parliament's choice in respect of socioeconomic pieces of legislation.

It is quite obvious therefore that this is a very divided court, as is society. However, it had the wisdom to offer this advice to parliament in May 1995 when the decision was rendered:

The issue of how the term spouse should be defined is a fundamental social policy issue and parliament should decide it and parliament should listen to and balance the competing social issues, the philosophical issues, the legal, moral, theological issues that go into this definitional process. The court shouldn't be deciding it. Parliament should be deciding it and the court should defer to parliament.

This is hardly an enthusiastic endorsement for interfering in different areas of jurisdictional competence or, as some have suggested, judicial activism. I would submit quite to the contrary, the courts are quite prepared to defer to parliament.

The next leading case is Rosenberg, which the government chose not to appeal. It basically showed that the court of appeal was a little fed up with parliament. It had a case before it concerning tax deferral and the advantages of a heterosexual couple over a homosexual couple with respect to the Income Tax Act.

The attorney general conceded that under the Income Tax Act section 15 was in fact violated, but at a lower court ruling this was a justifiable limitation and was found to be reasonable under section 1. The court of appeal, in overturning that decision, said that this discriminatory action could not be justified as pressing and substantial. It also said that it failed the test of rational connection, minimal impairment and proportionality. There was no rational connection between the limitation and the goal of protecting heterosexual partners from income security on the death of their partners. It also found that the cost was not a constitutionally permissible justification of discrimination under section 1 and judicial deference was not a presumptive argument against judicial scrutiny.

A conclusion to be reached after a section 1 analysis, in other words the discriminatory provisions, could not be justified as they had no rational connection and the courts were no longer prepared to defer just on the basis of institutional competence.

I think the fair conclusion is that if parliament does not decide these issues then the courts will take over. In my view that effectively shuts out the voices of the people of Canada so that the chattering classes get to have their say on what they think should be the proper definition of spouse or conjugal relationship. The courts can have their say as to what constitutes a conjugal relationship, but the people of Canada and parliament do not get their say.

The point I want to make is that Rosenberg, M and H, and Egan did not deal with marriage. Rosenberg deals with the tax advantages of a heterosexual couple. M and H deals with section 29 of the Family Law Act but, as such, marriage itself is left alone.

It is a clear legal conclusion that in Egan, Rosenberg, M and H on the issue of what constitutes a marriage has, per the terms of the motion before us, not been attacked. While there has been a great deal of public debate surrounding those court decisions, there has been no initiative on the part of either the courts of appeal or the Supreme Court of Canada to say that marriage is anything other than what the motion states, namely a union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Having said that the institution of marriage and the definition of marriage is not under attack does not mean that parliamentarians can have a nice summer and enjoy themselves. In my view, the courts have got themselves locked into a dialogue out of which they cannot emerge because of the logic of their positions.

Courts necessarily operate in a rights-based environment and everything is put through that particular lens. Courts, by definition, do not have a broad perspective. What is in front of an individual judicial officer at any given time is a set of litigants who deal on a narrow set of facts, on a particular set of legal principles at any given time. Necessarily, the courts' focuses are narrow and specific.

Parliament, however, is best able to look at the broad socio-economic implications of changes to legislation. Parliament, in its own funny little way, goes through this committee type process where witnesses are brought in and a variety of viewpoints are sought which have an effect on how the government of the day deals with the issues. The process is fairly open and democratic. Legislation emerges hopefully encompassing what has been heard from witnesses. No judicial inquiry can ever match the breadth of a parliamentary process.

I would submit that one of the reasons the court decisions have been so controversial is that the court processes have ended up dealing with language concepts that are very limiting by their nature. The rights based and rights concept view of life is very individualistic and does not deal very well with other institutions in our society such as the family.

For instance, if one uses the concept of spouse, one necessarily ends up expanding the language to accommodate the demands of same sex people. It tends to render the meaning of spouse, as has been understood over the millennia, as meaningless to many others.

The reasons that the courts end up dealing with phrases like “spouse” and “conjugal rights” is that their language is limited and limited to a particular decision. They end up expanding the language in the way language was never intended to go in the first place and then of course that in turn offends some people.

I would like to propose that the direction for the government in this particular area should be to first de-conjugalize the language. The first and foremost principle, as set out in the motion of the hon. member, namely that the definition of marriage remains as is and that the Government of Canada should give a positive statement, rather than merely double negatives from lawyers, that marriage is a separate institution recognized by a variety of religious authorities throughout the millennia and that it enjoys a unique and particular status in the lives of Canadians.

Having said that, the second step of the process is much more problematic. The conjugalizing of the definition of dependency for the purposes of family law legislation, or for the purposes of divorce, or for the purpose of pension entitlements has set up a whole new set of discriminatory practices which the courts will find endlessly frustrating.

My suggestion is that once we de-conjugalize those sorts of definitions and move toward truer concepts of dependency and inter-relationship we will avoid a lot of legal absurdities that the courts are currently and inadvertently in the process of setting up.

The most obvious legal absurdity is that the people who have sex will be entitled to certain kinds of benefits and the people who do not will not. The dependencies are the same, the relationship is the same, yet the entitlement to a panoply of benefits is generated only by virtue of sex. I would suggest that is an absurdity which sets up a level of discrimination which is unnecessary and will be the source of a great deal of additional litigation.

I would suggest that it is up to parliament to get the courts out of some of their own logical absurdities. The suggestion that you made, Mr. Speaker, with respect to domestic partnerships, is in some respects entitled to a great deal of scrutiny.

Other suggestions may be to maintain the definition of spouse for married couples only and apply a different term, most likely partner, for all other relationships, including common law, same sex or non-conjugal. Many non-married couples use the term partner for significant terminology, as is reflected in society general. Or the definition of spouse could be used for all non-married partnerships, including common law, same sex or non-conjugal, and the terminology applied to married spouses could be that of husband and wife.

These are only suggestions, but I would suggest that this is the institution that best deals with those kinds of suggestions and that the courts themselves are institutions to which we should only defer in certain circumstances. As I see it, the courts are quite prepared to defer to parliament and to listen to what parliament has to say in dealing with this very vexing issue.

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1:45 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Reform Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member from the Liberal Party seems to be in contradiction with what the parliamentary secretary said earlier about the supremacy of parliament. The member who just spoke seems to be concurring with members of the opposition and others who have said that parliament is supreme. The parliamentary secretary clearly stated that the supreme court is supreme, so there certainly is a conflict on that side of the House.

I know he spoke in support, generally speaking, of this motion, but I want to know how he justifies the following statement:

“Be it resolved that the Liberal Party of Canada strongly urge the federal government to recognize same sex marriages in the same way that it recognizes opposite marriages in its distribution of benefits”.

I am wondering how the member from the Liberal Party of Canada can justify supporting this motion? We appreciate his support, but there is a definite contradiction between the policy of the Liberal Party of Canada and what they are saying in the House today. How can he justify that?

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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, in my view parliament is the proper forum to deal with this issue. In fact it has a means to it that allows us to deal with what apparently are irreconcilable concepts.

May I suggest that in some respect any motions that deal with same sex marriage, or words or phrases to that effect, are in fact imprecise versions of language. We want to be much tighter in our use of language. We want particular words to mean particular things to particular pieces of legislation.

My suggestion, and I think it is a good suggestion, which is supported by others, is that if we de-conjugalize the issues outside marriage we arrive at a solution or we move toward a solution which is in fact far healthier and allows us to get past this constant flinging of words back and forth, whether it is spouse, conjugal, marriage, husband or wife. If we were far more precise in our language then I think we would give the courts instruction as to how to resolve the issues on a case by case basis.

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1:45 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the question that my colleague just asked because we are very concerned that the policy resolution that was passed by the Liberals at their convention is in fact what is behind a lot of the concerns that we are raising today.

We talk a lot about the courts and we are very concerned that there is going to be more and more of an erosion of our fundamental beliefs. We need to send a message to the courts that the definition of marriage is sacrosanct. We would like to stop sliding down the slippery slope.

The basic building block of our society is the family and we are very concerned that this will lead to an erosion of that.

I would like to return to the court case which has formed the background for this discussion, the M. v H. case, which was before the supreme court. There was no disagreement on their legal rights by the time that case got to the court. The case had turned into an abstract argument over gay marriage. The monetary aspect had been closed. Both sides wanted the court to rule in the same way.

Why would the supreme court accept a case under those circumstances? Why did it not wait to decide whether gay marriage should be imposed on the country until a live argument was before it? My feeling is that the court did not wait because it was wanting to write gay marriage into the law. That is why this whole discussion today is so important.

I would like to know if the member has any response to my comments.

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's premise with respect to the analysis of M. v H. is completely false. M. v H. did not deal with marriage. M. v H. dealt with section 29 of the family law legislation of the province of Ontario, and it dealt with that legislation in section 29. Section 1 concerns the definition of marriage. Section 29 concerns spousal rights; that is, what we would consider to be common law spousal rights. The court analogized that common law heterosexual spousal rights are equivalent to common law homosexual spousal rights, and that is where it left it.

As to the issue that is on the floor, it has nothing to do with marriage, as M. v H. had nothing to do with marriage. In fact, the courts in Egan, Rosenberg and M. v H. all said the same thing. They were not dealing with marriage; they were dealing with rights and benefits that may accrue by virtue of a relationship.

The next step is to de-conjugalize the issue. If we do that we have taken the steam right out of the debate.

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to follow my colleague from Scarborough East because I share many of the sentiments he has expressed.

First, let me say that I am a member of parliament. My decisions are made here and they are made by my brain and my conscience. I am not bound by any policy decisions made by a Liberal convention. The Reform Party may be bound by the suggestions from policy conventions but not me. These are merely suggestions of policy that have come from the membership of the Liberal party. But, when push comes to shove, as members of parliament we have to decide on our own consciences in this Chamber.

I have no difficulty saying that I support this motion. It is a little premature for me because I would have liked more time over the summer to formulate a better expression of my thoughts concerning the controversy surrounding same sex couples in terms of the benefits they should receive and the absolute necessity in my mind in preserving the legal concept of marriage as a union of opposite sex couples.

The reason I support this motion is because there are two very important things behind the need to recognize the legality of marriage as an opposite sex union. First, it is the idea that many Canadians still believe, despite the fact that there are some Canadians who have lost some faith in the various organized churches, absolutely in the sanctity of marriage. We owe those Canadians an obligation to respect their feelings on this issue. We should not willy-nilly trample on something that has been a tradition for many thousands of years.

For me the really crucial issue with respect to the legality of an opposite sex union being termed a marriage is the idea of adoption. I voted against my government several years back on this very issue. I support absolutely the need to support couples who are in an emotionally dependent relationship that becomes materially dependent, be they same sex couples or couples that are dependent for other reasons. I feel very strongly that while I support that idea absolutely, I am very concerned that we must never, in furthering that goal, extinguish the rights of others. By this I mean specifically children. My fear about recognizing same sex marriages is that it would infuse a right for homosexual couples to adopt children.

Right now there is a discretionary ability for homosexual couples to adopt children and I think that is fine, because I am not one to say that it is impossible, indeed, even unlikely, that a homosexual couple might make excellent parents. What I am not prepared to say is that, all things being equal, a homosexual couple make equally as good parents as a heterosexual couple. I do not think society and our understanding of the human psyche has progressed that far that we can be prepared to make that judgment.

The idea or the concept of retaining the legal concept of marriage as an opposite sex union is, I think, extremely important in terms of preserving the rights of children, the right of a child to be brought up by heterosexual parents.

That being said, I really do welcome this debate, because what has happened is that in the courts, when we leave it to the courts, the judges sit back and they hear the evidence presented before them. However, if that evidence is flawed or that evidence is incomplete, then what happens is that the court will make an incomplete decision.

We saw that in the use of the word conjugal, which came up in Bill C-78. The government used the word conjugal based on its use in previous court decisions. When I examined that, I discovered that the courts did not consider the meaning of conjugal. The courts merely made a change to existing legislation and ignored the fact that conjugal means heterosexual, unless we had a situation where even the supreme court was implying that the word conjugal means same sex unions when it does not mean that at all. What we have to do—

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I stand, my colleague, to advise you that you are now about halfway through your speech. In order that you can keep the balance that you already have in your speech, may I suggest that we proceed to Statements by Members and you will have the floor when we return after question period.

We will now proceed to Statements by Members.

The Persechini RunStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Mr. Speaker, a prominent resident in my riding of York North, Mr. Joe Persechini, has raised over $2 million in the past 23 years to aid children with physical disabilities and their families.

The Persechini Run is a fundraising event for Easter Seals. It has grown from an event that raised $2,700 in its first year to raising over $190,000 this year, with more than 3,000 people involved as participants and volunteers.

I congratulate all of the people who took part in the Persechini Run, especially the hundreds of schoolchildren. To Joe Persechini, his team of volunteers and the community and business sponsors I extend my greatest thanks.

TaxationStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is a very special day in the House. The Reform Party is standing in defence of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman.

There are other ways of supporting families too. For example, we think that it is high time to free families from their crushing tax load. We believe in leaving more money in the hands of the people who have earned it so that they can provide for their families. How can families be strong if half of their earnings are confiscated in the form of taxes, making it a constant struggle for them to make ends meet?

I am very appreciative of my family. After 38 years of marriage, my wife and I have three children, two in-laws and four grandchildren. However, thanks to the Liberal and Conservative governments of the past 35 years, the collective share of the debt spread over our 11 family members is over $200,000.

Can we not see that debt and taxes are a threat to our families? Let us get debt and taxes down.

The EnvironmentStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the global community recognized World Environment Day on June 5 and will recognize World Population Day on July 11.

Population growth has a significant impact on our environment as growing human activity around the world consumes the resources that all living things require. Clean freshwater and farmland are becoming more scarce. Fish are declining in the world's rivers, lakes and oceans. The loss of forests impacts biodiversity when habitats that shelter plant and animal species are destroyed. Billions of tonnes of topsoil are lost through erosion each year. Toxic chemicals in the environment especially threaten the health of children, the elderly and the urban poor. Our ecosystem and our health bear the brunt of these impacts.

My aim is not to dishearten but simply to raise awareness of the links between population, the environment and human health. By considering these links and the principles of sustainable development and by formulating our priorities, policies and laws we can make a great step forward.

LeukemiaStatements By Members

June 8th, 1999 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to encourage this House to consider June as Leukemia Awareness Month and to congratulate and thank the Leukemia Research Fund of Canada for its hard work and dedication.

Approximately 3,300 Canadians will be diagnosed with leukemia and 2,100 will die in 1999. When we think that the loss of people like my friend the gifted filmmaker Philip Borsos will be prevented in the future, we can see the importance of this fight. I would like the House to recognize the work of the Leukemia Research Fund of Canada.

The medical community has made tremendous progress in understanding leukemia. Just this weekend at the 25th reunion of my medical school class, my classmate Dr. Mark Minden illustrated just how close they are to a cure. As the second leading cause of death among children and adolescents, cancer and especially leukemia deserve our attention.

On June 24 the Leukemia Research Fund of Canada will present research grants to the best and most promising scientists who are dedicated to finding a cure for leukemia. I would like to congratulate the Leukemia Research Fund of Canada for all its hard work. I am sure we will see a cure to leukemia very soon.

Relay For A FriendStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Lou Sekora Liberal Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to have played a small part in the Canadian Cancer Society 1999 Relay for a Friend held last weekend in my riding. What the organizers and the participants achieved in this event was truly amazing. Over a period of 12 hours, 2,000 participants raised $366,500 for cancer research and equipment. We have all been touched by cancer at one time or another either personally or through a loved one.

Many of those involved have survived cancer. Congratulations to everyone involved.

AgricultureStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, for weeks we have been warning the government about the devastating flood crisis in parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The survival of many farms is in serious jeopardy. U.S. farmers hit by this flood will get $100 U.S. for every unseeded acre. Canadian farmers are getting political rhetoric.

The government responded to last year's farm income crisis with a program that is itself a disaster. It is so bad that the Saskatchewan agriculture minister said at a rally in Regina this weekend, “Forget about the forms, forget about everything else. We have seen this thing doesn't work so let's use that as an experience to make it work for everybody”.

Is the government listening? Useless programs and inaction from this government are not going to cut it with western Canadian farmers. They need solutions, not empty promises.