Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address this motion today, especially following some of the eloquent and learned comments that have been made by the speakers preceding me. I particularly want to comment later on in my remarks on the Minister of Justice's amendment to the motion. I think it is an important amendment.
First let me say that there is no greater spiritual union than that of marriage. There is no more intimate spiritual union than that of someone who makes a commitment for life to an idea, to a person, to what they believe. We use that word marriage. It is the most private commitment one can make. Although we celebrate marriage as a public event, the reality is the signing of papers, the commitment that is made in writing, the commitment that is made before God is perhaps the most private and intimate commitment we can make as human beings.
I say that because the word marriage has been talked about in terms of definitions. An hon. member from the government side and an hon. member from the Bloc went to the dictionary to define marriage. We have commented that it changes with time and it does, but it is clearly to correlate a pair, it is clearly to join together. In fact, those of us from the maritime provinces grew up knowing that when we splice the ends of a rope together, we say we marry them. When a carpenter joins together certain pieces, they are married. We marry up certain things.
When I talk about the intense commitment of one person, I think about one of my relatives. She will not be happy that I am saying this publicly, but I believe next year she will celebrate her 50th anniversary. Fifty years ago she put on a wedding ring. She made a commitment. She has stayed true to that commitment. Her marriage was to her church. Her marriage was to the ideology and the beliefs she believes came to her intimately and that is the career to which she is married. That is the intimate contract she has made with whom she sees as her God.
Marriage takes all kinds of forms. From reading history we know that Elizabeth I under pressure from France, from her ambassadors to marry the king of France, to marry the king of Spain, finally came to parliament and said “Behold lords, I am married. See the ring. I am married to England”.
Marriage has many connotations. We have to bear that in mind because we are dealing with words. Words in this chamber are important. I look at the motion in that light; I look at it in terms of what the words are. Some of them are important. We have had definitions of marriage and what it means.
I have some concern with the motion when it says that parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve that definition. We need clarification on that. I do not know what that means. Obviously it could mean invoking the notwithstanding clause of the constitution should the courts at some future date overrule what is contested here as being the legal definition of marriage, but how much further do we go if we invoke the notwithstanding clause? Do we go further than that? If two individuals of the same sex, let us say, decide that they will fill out forms and say that they are married, how far do we go to preserve the definition? We need some clarity on that.
We look at the constitution. I am glad the Minister of Justice made the amendment, because when I first read this motion, something did not sit right. It has been a long time since I have been in law school, but somehow I thought, there is a jurisdictional issue here and I do not know what it is. I did a little research. It has been commented on by my colleague from the Bloc. Professor Hogg said:
The federal authority in relation to “marriage”—the first branch of s. 91 (of the BNA Act)—has to be read side by side with the provincial authority in relation to “the solemnization of marriage in the province” (s. 92 of the BNA Act). In fact most of the laws concerning marriage have been enacted by the provinces, and the courts have tended to construe the provincial power liberally. The scope of federal power has been left largely undetermined.
I put that question to the minister and she agreed with me. I do not know what it means to the House that the minister and myself agree. There is Professor Hogg who may be a little more authoritative. I cite again:
The only federal law ever to come before the courts was one which declared that every marriage performed in accordance with the laws of the place where it was performed was to be recognized as a valid marriage everywhere in Canada.
It goes on to say that it was challenged, but their lordships expanded the power of the provinces.
We are debating a motion that clearly is one of those that overlaps the two spheres of federal and provincial authority. I caution the House on that. We have to be very careful before we interfere with the jurisdiction of the provinces.
A red light went on when I read this motion. I remember when I was married that we applied to the province for a marriage licence. It is the province that sanctions the marriage. It is the federal government that sanctions divorce.
We have to bear in mind those words and those jurisdictional questions when we look at this motion. They require further debate. We will hear about that as the day wears on and it will be a long day. I understand we are here until 6.30.
We also have to go behind the motion. This has been commented on by the mover and seconder of the motion. We began discussing what marriage is and what it should be and whether or not this government has the power and jurisdiction to enforce the legal definition. Then we moved into a debate about recent court rulings. It is fair to say that there is a great separation here between what is marriage and what the courts have determined in terms of same sex benefits.
There has been some comment by both the mover of the motion and the seconder or the speaker who immediately followed him in reference to some of the cases. The mover of the motion cited the Corbett case when he mentioned that the supreme court has determined what marriage is. In that definition, which is the court's and not his, he says it clearly requires the physical sexual intercourse relationship, the intimacy of that physical relationship.
It will be noted that in my opening remarks I did not refer to that. Marriage is a spiritual union more so than a physical union; even more so is the spiritual element of it.
If this debate is really about limiting benefits to same sex individuals, I would go further than that. A constituent came up to me and said, “I have no problem with this issue of same sex benefits. I think it should go further. Why should I be precluded from naming as my survivor my daughter who has looked after me for 20 years?” Why should two sisters who are elderly and have looked after each other their whole lives, be prohibited from the rights of survivorship that we traditionally ascribe to a husband and wife?
If this debate is really about fear of extending same sex benefits that were traditionally to a husband and wife to members of the same sex who have a longstanding relationship or to members of the same family who have a longstanding relationship, then I think that is a different debate altogether. I have some concern that that may be the underlying thrust given the comments that have been made and all the references to same sex benefits and supreme court decisions.
In light of that, it is a complex motion. I applaud the member for bringing it before the House because it is an important motion. But those are questions we will have to hear from the Reform Party on in terms of clarifying this important issue as the day wears on.