Madam Speaker, I do not hesitate in supporting your calling the House to order at such a solemn moment, not just because I am rising to speak, but also because I believe the matter raised by the Reform Party is an important one.
I agree with the Reform Party that we need to discuss these matters. I am not of course in agreement with the position proposed. We need to discuss these matters because marriage is not a reality of divine right. It is not something that exists in itself, but something set out in legislation, and therefore something important for us to discuss.
Since I have about 20 minutes, I will take the time to read the wording of the motion in order to clearly set today's debate in context. The Reform Party motion reads as follows:
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—
We can see the imperative nature of this motion.
—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.
In fact, some people have asked whether the wording “all necessary steps” means going so far as to use the notwithstanding clause. The question can be asked, and I think that members of the Reform Party will have to answer it.
I do not believe that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. I am among those who believe—and I will give my reasons later—that we should consider opening up the institution of marriage because marriage is not a divine right. It is an institution that required lawmakers to step in, and that is why conventional marriage as we know it is a prerogative of this parliament. The solemnization of marriage is a prerogative of various legislatures, but the definition of marriage has required that lawmakers step in, or we would not be looking at a motion such as this.
If marriage were limited strictly to canonical law, it would not concern us as parliamentarians. But canonical law is not the issue here.
I know that throughout their history, our Reform Party colleagues have made a number of attempts, some of them more adroit than others, to limit or refuse to recognize the right of two men or two women to form a conjugal union. I say again that I believe strongly that two men or two women can form conjugal unions and that lawmakers must recognize this reality, much as the supreme court has done in its recent decisions.
Before exploring this topic any further, I want to ask to what the motion is referring when it mentions various court decisions. Since 1992 a number of decisions both of administrative tribunals and of superior courts, such as the Ontario Court of Appeal and the supreme court, have progressively recognized and established case law and have handed down decisions recognizing same sex couples.
I will give a bit of background here. I know that I have the House's full attention and I am delighted. In 1992, when Kim Campbell was the minister of justice—I do not want to dredge up bad memories in the House—a decision was handed down by the Ontario Court of Appeal. This decision was the start of abundant jurisprudence.
In 1992, in the Haig case, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the Canadian human rights legislation saying that it was unconstitutional because it did not recognize sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds of discrimination. The government amended the law and we are grateful to it for doing so. This was at the time the current Minister of Health was the minister of justice.
Following the Haig decision, there was increasing recognition in legal annals that continued to grow in strength. Real case law was therefore born giving recognition to the fact that there could be common law conjugal unions between two men and two women, that is, partners of the same sex.
There was the decision in Haig. Recently there was the decision in Rosenberg where once again the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned certain provisions of the Income Tax Act saying that they were not compatible with section 15 of the Canadian charter of human rights by not according same sex partners survivor benefits.
Treasury Board amended this legislation. We would have preferred an omnibus bill. I have been tirelessly proposing year after year since 1994 in private member's bills that parliament acknowledge same sex spouses and permit passage of a single piece of legislation amending all existing laws. There are some 70 laws. All heterosexual definitions according benefits and requirements would include a homosexual definition of spouses.
I do not despair because increasingly persistent rumours—and I ask the parliamentary secretary to nod if she believes these rumours have some basis—are intimating that in October the government will table, in an unprecedented act of generosity, a bill recognizing same sex spouses. I can tell him in advance that he can count on my support and, more widely, that of the Bloc Quebecois, I believe.
When addressing these issues, we are speaking of the recognition of spouses of the same sex. That is what the Reform Party members are against. They have in fact introduced a motion against the Rosenberg decision.
Canadians, Quebecers and all those who support human rights must know that the Reform Party does not recognize that two women or two men can love each other and be protected by the legislator. That is the starting point of a debate such as the one we are having here today.
Since they do not acknowledge the existence of such a reality, hon. members will realize that anything even remotely connected to this is also disapproved of by the Reform Party.
It is their right as parliamentarians to discuss these matters and to hold that position but, in my opinion, their position is archaic and dated. It is rooted in another century. Canadians and Quebecers are far more generous in spirit than the Reform Party would have us believe. All those who agree with me applaud now.
That having been said, we agree that Canadians and Quebecers are far more generous, tolerant and open-minded than the Reform Party would have us believe.