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.