Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on the motion brought before us by the official opposition, which 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.
The definition included in the motion before us is the standard common law definition which the government affirms, for instance, in its response to the many tens of thousands of petitions brought before this place.
We are simply seeking to reaffirm what has been the legal common law understanding of the past 150 years or more in Canada and the Commonwealth and, more importantly, to reaffirm the normative understanding of an essential social institution, the basic institution of civil society as it has been understood for millennia, through all of human civilization.
Some members opposite, including the member for Thornhill, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, have indicated that this is a moot point and a redundant motion insofar as no one is proposing any changes.
I find this quite unbelievable because I have several times today quoted from what I think is a relatively important authority which has proposed a change to the law in this respect and that institution just so happens to be the Liberal Party of Canada.
First, I want to commend members opposite for supporting this motion, and I commend the many members who have stood in the House to indicate that they share our view, that this is an important debate to have so that we can place on the official parliamentary record the importance of reaffirming the common law understanding of marriage. Yet we have heard from certain members opposite, such as the member for Thornhill, the member for Charleswood St. James—Assiniboia, the parliamentary secretary to the attorney general, and the attorney general herself, who said this morning: “Why use 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?”
Just as I was standing, the hon. member for Thornhill said that no one is proposing any changes to the definition of marriage. Then why is it that I have in my hand a resolution passed by the duly elected delegates of the Liberal Party of Canada at their policy convention last summer, where I stood as an observer, which reads:
Be it resolved that the Liberal Party of Canada strongly urge the federal government to recognize same sex marriages in the same way it recognizes opposite marriages—
Just a moment ago the member from Thornhill said that no one is proposing a change. The Liberal Party of Canada is proposing a change. The Government of Canada may not be responding to its party members. That is its own business. It can govern its own affairs as it wishes.
I think it is absolutely incumbent upon us to point out that people are proposing change in an institution no less than the Liberal Party of Canada. Hon. members say that we should let the courts tend to their business of judicial review, that we have the charter and the charter will be interpreted fairly by the courts and members of this parliament can sit by as passive observers and watch that process unfold.
If one were to have suggested at the time of the introduction of the charter of rights that the legal definition of spouse would be fundamentally changed, people would have said that is unbelievable. That is fearmongering, they would have said.
One of the major decisions in the charter era was the Morgentaler decision striking down section 251 of the Criminal Code in 1988. Yet back in 1981, when the charter was debated in this place, the then attorney general, the current Right Hon. Prime Minister, was asked at committee whether any section of the charter could possibly be used to strike down the criminal provisions with respect to abortion and the then attorney general, the now Prime Minister, said, “Oh, no”. He said it in Hansard . We can reference it. The point is that we cannot predict with any degree of certitude what the courts are likely to do in their increasingly expanded understanding of judicial review.
That is why it is incumbent upon us to accept the invitation of the judges, of the courts, to enter into a dialogue. A dialogue is a two way conversation. It is not a monologue. To date we have merely had a monologue from the courts on issues of this nature. It is now time for parliament to speak so that we are on the record as asserting the current legal common law definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.
I cannot imagine why this would be a controversial motion. I cannot imagine why the Liberal Party would propose to scrap this definition. I cannot imagine for my own purposes why the courts of Canada would choose to change substantively the nature of marriage in law as they have essentially done through the M and H and other related decisions regarding spousal relations.
Let us be clear. The Liberal member from Mississauga quoted Mr. Corbett from the Foundation for Equal Families as saying that at this point the question of the definition of marriage is premature, from which a reasonable person could infer that his organization and like-minded individuals will use their democratic right to go to the courts to seek a redefinition of marriage; not at this time, because they do have an incremental legal agenda, and that is quite understandable, but at some point in the future. I do not think any reasonable person can have any doubt that a litigant will come before our courts seeking to strike down the current exclusionary definition of marriage, the common law definition, using as a basis the charter of rights. The government's posture, as articulated today, would be to sit back passively and allow the courts possibly to redefine the meaning of marriage at that time.
That is why we have come before the House today in 1999. That litigation might not occur this year. It might not occur for three or four years, but sooner or later it surely will occur. If we pass this motion tonight the Parliament of Canada, the supreme lawmaking body of this country, will have spoken and will be on the record affirming the age old common law understanding of the institution of marriage, which is absolutely central to a healthy civil society.