I would ask the hon. parliamentary secretary to keep her cool. I sense this may be going somewhere I do not wish to go.
There is no one in the House who can say how many people of homosexual orientation there are. Why is that so? Because it is not part of our tax returns. When people file tax returns they do not declare whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. When there is a census we do not declare whether we are heterosexual or homosexual. So no one can say how many in the population are gay.
What we do know, however, is that gays are taxpaying members of society, members of the workforce. Often they are involved in their communities. There is no reason that would justify our not recognizing that reality, as parliamentarians.
The recognition of marriage, as you yourself have experienced it, Madam Speaker, is not something the gay community is calling for. In the last five years I do not think I have met ten people in the community who have told me they thought I should take up this battle. It is not a big issue in the gay community, which is not to say that it is not discriminatory to prevent homosexuals from marrying.
It may not be a big issue in the gay community but last year an application was made to the Quebec superior court for a declaratory judgment nonetheless. If Reform Party members wish to read this application I am prepared to table a copy.
This would bring home to parliamentarians that although this is not a major issue in the community and although there is a stronger body of opinion calling for recognition of same sex spouses, there are in fact a few cases pending before the courts.
Last year two Quebecers, Michael Hendrix and René Leboeuf, made an application for a declaratory judgment to strike down article 365 of the Civil Code. A number of arguments were advanced that I think it would be useful to share with the House.
I would like to digress at this point to say that if someone offered to marry me tomorrow morning it is not a course I would take, although someone does have his eye on me and any desire I may have had to remain unattached is flagging. After three years, perhaps my colleagues have noticed that I am a different man when I am in love. I say that even if marriage were legalized I would not commit to it.
However, in all logic, in all fairness, I think we must recognize that homosexual men and women are similar to people who have married.
I will share with members some arguments that were made in the brief tabled by Mr. Hendrix and Mr. Leboeuf in an application for a declaratory judgment. I dedicate these arguments to the Reform members and hope they will listen carefully. They wrote:
They are considered to have the same rights and the same obligations in their union. Together they have acquired matrimonial property and therefore have a common heritage.
There is no doubt that when we live together for five, six, eight or ten years we build a common heritage. This is undeniable.
They wrote further:
They vowed respect, fidelity, help and assistance to each other.
If fidelity, respect and mutual assistance are attributes of a heterosexual union, there is no reason to think that they are not also attributes of homosexual unions.
They also said:
They lived together without interruption from the start of their union. Although there were no children, they have formed a family unit since the start of their relationship, just like childless married couples.
I will conclude this part of my remarks by saying that the co-applicants, just like heterosexual married couples, established and maintained from the start of their shared life a permanent family residence.
Why am I doing this? Because, in strict civil and legal terms, there is no argument against the fact that two men or two women may live in extremely similar unions that have the same characteristics of heterosexual unions characterized by ties of marriage.
Naturally what make the difference—and I respect that—are religious convictions. It is obvious that in the official line of the church, in its official doctrine, there is no recognition of homosexual marriages just as there is no recognition of divorce. Does this mean that if the Reform Party insists on sticking to strictly religious arguments it will have to have an opposition day before the end of the present session in order to have it acknowledged that divorce also cannot be recognized? If one sticks to official church doctrine, divorce is something reprehensible.
Hon. members can see where this type of argument, which seeks to limit the debate to religious considerations, can lead. My point is that. if men and women make a commitment to a union, provide each other with support, are together and are happy together in a free-will arrangement, if they share assets, if they have a family home and define themselves as a family—what is termed common repute—then in my opinion there is no reason whatsoever not to recognize a marriage between two men or two women.
If the principal spokespersons of the gay community were here right now—which, as hon. members may know, means the gays in three major centres, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal—I believe they would agree with me that this is not an important debate among them, that it is not a demand being made by the gay community. The fact remains that it is discriminatory to deny people access to the institution of marriage and to recognize it as the sole prerogative of the heterosexual community.
I hope that along the way we will understand and once and for all the Reform Party members will rise in the House and admit that their arguments are based on religious beliefs, which I respect. However religious beliefs cannot be included in a bill because any reference to God has to be in the plural. Religion is a system of symbols that help us to understand the world.
As parliamentarians, we are well aware that the days of religious monolithism are gone. The God of the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve is not the God the Reform Party member might invoke. It is not the God that certain of our Muslim colleagues or some of our colleagues from other religious denominations might call on.
It is therefore not our place, as parliamentarians, to try to limit debates to religious considerations given that religion is a question of pluralism. If we set this argument aside there is no reason not to recognize marriage and not to open this institution up to same sex couples.
The solemnization of marriage remains a provincial jurisdiction. The basic conditions are the prerogative of the federal government.
If the Reform Party had wanted to make a useful contribution, it should have asked the House to vote on a motion to put marriage back under the jurisdiction of the provinces, which are much closer to any matters related to the family and family policy. I think that would have been as useful a debate as the one moved today.