Madam Speaker, I must say that I share the mystification of the deputy whip of the government when she said it is a mystery why we have to talk about this. I never imagined when I was elected six years ago that I would ever be in the House of Commons debating this issue, the fact that we need to affirm the meaning and the cornerstone policy of marriage in our country. I think most hon. members have the same feeling yet here we are.
The Prime Minister in October 1996 said that marriage is a contract between two individuals according to the Canadian tradition of different sexes to share a life together. A spokesman for the justice department in January this year said common law says that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that is the way it will stay.
I think a lot of us had thought, hoped and believed that this kind of a debate about the meaning of marriage in Canada would be totally unnecessary. Yet as many of my colleagues and others have stated here today, there is a growing uncertainty and concern on the part of citizens of our country about this seeming bedrock concept of Canadian society.
The recent redefinition of spouse by the supreme court is one of the things causing this unease. Of course a spouse is a part of a marriage. Now the courts have said that a spouse is a part of other kinds of relationships as well. In its decision the court said that this ruling that redefines spouse “has nothing to do with marriage per se”. It also said “this appeal does not challenge traditional conceptions of marriage”.
There have been moves in other parts of the world to re-examine this issue. In 1996 the American Congress passed what is called the defence of marriage act. As the House knows, issues are very closely linked in our two countries and in other countries as well.
That act did two things. First, it allowed states not to honour same sex marriages even if such marriages were allowed in other states. Second, the law defined for the federal code that marriage “means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife”. Interestingly enough, shortly after the act was passed, the state of Hawaii had a court decision which ruled that forbidding same sex marriages violated Hawaii's constitution.
There are reasons for Canadians to feel some unease about this issue. In the interventions by some members of the New Democratic Party today there is some hostility toward this cornerstone definition of public policy.
The unease of Canadian citizens has been demonstrated in some of the petitions filed in the House. I would like to read the wording of the petitions that have been filed. Eighty-four members of parliament have stood up to present this petition:
Whereas the majority of Canadians understand the concept of marriage as only the voluntary union of a single (that is, unmarried) male and a single (that is, unmarried), female;
And whereas it is the duty of parliament to ensure that marriage, as it has always been known and understood in Canada, be preserved and protected;
Therefore your petitioners pray that parliament enact legislation...so as to define in statute that a marriage can only be entered into between a single male and a single female.
In this petition we see the anxiety of thousands of Canadians who took the time to sign and submit petitions to parliament.
We also see that the courts are requesting leadership by lawmakers on key public policy issues such as this. There is a clear precedent that the courts are prepared to fill in any blanks in respect of these kinds of issues, and sometimes even to rewrite our laws.
We have for example a quote from an article in the Financial Post where a financial planner observes:
—the law, whether by statute or judiciary, is slowly but surely transforming the notion of “family”...the Egan case said...the definition of spouse in the Old Age Security Act, which requires couples to be of the opposite sex, contravenes the Charter of Rights. But the contravention was saved by the holding...that the discrimination is acceptable in a free and democratic society.
There was one dissenting judge even on that exception. The commentator went on to say:
We don't believe that such a change is likely in the foreseeable future and we are certainly not about to embark upon a campaign for change. On the other hand, we do recognize that societal norms are changing and that even if the politicians are super cautious, a goodly part of the judiciary does not seem to be intimidated.
When there is commentary like that, our citizens are concerned. They wonder what is going to happen.
There is also the matter of Bill C-78 wherein the provisions of the public service pension act were extended to same sex couples. This provision of the bill caused real anxiety not only in the public but there was some strong reaction by members of the House.
There was the perception that the government was changing some of the notions and the definitions of relationships in our society by stealth. I do not want to be unkind but I think that was the impression a lot of members of the House got, that buried deep in these big bills were going to be the kind of changes to the whole notions and constructs of our society that would not be acceptable to many Canadians.
When we see that courts have said that a couple is a couple is a couple and that spouse is not limited to marriage partner, in the long run people ask themselves, will the distinction between a union to procreate and nurture children and all other types of relationships be lost?
This leads me to the purpose of bringing forward this motion today is to give us as members of parliament the opportunity to say that we are determined to be vigilant in regard to these very key elements of our social make-up and that we mean business about ensuring the stability of this key social construct. If there is doubt, let us clear it up. If it takes a day of debate to do that, then I think it is a very worthwhile day of debate.
There are a number of reasons the institution of marriage is important. In the book It Takes Two: The Family in Law and Finance by Allen and Richards it is stated:
Marriage is an efficient institution. Were there a more efficient means to raise children, marriage would not have lasted over the millennia as the primary form of organization for procreation and social structure. Raising children, not just providing for them physically but embodying them with what is good and productive, is a complicated business. Historically, the family has been a type of “firm” that has provided parents with proper incentives to see the job through.
Traditionally, marriage has been viewed as a relationship in which there are many stakeholders: children, parents, the church and the state. Ours may be a more secular (society) but that does not absolve us from collectively caring about the success of marriage as an institution.
I appreciate that all members of the House are prepared to show leadership on this important issue.