Madam Speaker, this is indeed one of those debates where emotions run high, feelings run deep and the understandings are also very much in a state of flux.
I commend a number of members from all parties who have said they understand what the meaning of marriage is and that they want to support and affirm that marriage is that of one woman and one man to the exclusion of all others. That is our motion.
I want to do three things. I want to deal with the need for definition. I want to deal with the business of choices. And I want to deal with the matter of leadership.
The issue is rather significant. On the one hand it seems to be absolutely clear that everybody understands what marriage is, yet the judges want a clear definition and direction. All kinds of acrimonious statements have been made as to what might the motivation be, of why the Reform Party would enter this kind of debate. Is it simply for partisan advantage? Is it strictly crass politics and things of that sort? It is nothing of the kind.
When we get into the question of leadership, and that is really what we are into here, we want to recognize that one of the most important things in leadership is to influence others. In particular parliament influences all the people of Canada. The people of Canada will either be affected positively, negatively or they may simply turn off, but influenced they are nevertheless. We influence each other here in the House.
Through the reassertion of the definition we want to influence the judges of the land. We want to make sure that the courts and the decisions they render are indeed consistent with the definition that is being proposed here. We want to make it abundantly clear as well to all members of the House that we agree together on what it is we understand by the term marriage.
Why is it that we need to have these definitions? Marriage is one of those words that needs a definition but it also has all kinds of emotional connotations. It has spiritual connotations. It has the experiential knowledge of each of us.
I admit that I am a married man. As of March of this year my good wife and I have shared our lives together for 43 years. It has been a wonderful time. We have had our ups, we have had our downs, we have had our disagreements and confrontations, but we have lived together in a very happy relationship. I am very proud of it and very thankful for the wife who is mine.
The important thing here is to recognize that we have the need to define exactly what it is. I want to go back in history as to how important definitions really are. It comes to me from the field of science. In science we have a very significant suggestion.
When Mendeleev first put together the periodic table of the elements, he defined very clearly the order of the elements by arranging them in order by atomic number. He discovered there was a systematic recurrence of those elements which had similar characteristics even though their atomic number increased. It was the definition of the periodic table and how it worked with the various elements that became very significant not only in understanding how the elements work and interact with one another, but in order to communicate with others so that they could understand what was being talked about.
We can use another example of the need for definition. I like this one even better. It comes from the field of biology and botany, medicine if you will. The botanist clearly defines each of the parts of a plant and distinguishes one plant from another. It is in this definition where it clearly indicates what a particular plant is or what a particular thing is in distinction to the exclusion of all others.
That is what we are talking about here today. We are not saying what marriage is not; we are simply saying what marriage is. By saying what marriage is means it is absolutely nothing else. That seems to be lost in this debate somewhere. We are focusing very clearly and very definitely on a particular institution which is marriage and which is said very clearly to be the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. That is what this is all about.
Within that definition we need to be absolutely clear as to exactly what we want the courts and judges of this land to interpret when they have before them cases dealing with this matter. That this is a live issue has become abundantly clear with the kind of statements that have come forward from various members on both sides of the House.
We simply want to assure and affirm to the people of Canada and to all of us here assembled that marriage shall continue to mean today and in the future the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
There was an amendment put forward this morning “within the jurisdiction of parliament”. Of course, what else would it be but within the jurisdiction of parliament? That is the most important part. This parliament creates the law. This parliament determines the wishes of the people. It bases the law on the determination of the wishes of the people. Sometimes parliament can be wrong and if the government misinterprets what the people think, then it gets thrown out as happened recently in New Brunswick. We want it to be clear and if all parties agree on what the definition of marriage is, then we can recognize that all parties in future will recognize that this is what it is. We are parliament. We create the law of the land.
What is the choice that we have here today? If that is the clear definition we are working on, the choice before us is whether we will or will not affirm that. That is the clear choice we have today. That is the motivation behind what the Reform Party is doing. We can talk about crass politics and partisan politics, but all of that is totally beside the point. The choice is very simple: do we or do we not affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others?
Why is it so important that parliament make that choice and that decision? It comes from a number of judges. Here is what they have said:
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the long-established principle that in a constitutional democracy it is the legislature, as the elected branch of government, which should assume the major responsibility for law reform. Considerations such as these suggest that major revisions of the law are best left to the legislature.
The affirmations also apply to the legislature. The issues here—
—are of such magnitude, consequence, and difficulty in policy terms that they exceed the proper incremental lawmaking powers of the courts. These are the sort of changes which should be left to the legislature.
The interpretation should be left to the legislature is exactly what is meant.
If anything is to be done, the legislature is in a much better position to weigh the competing interests and to arrive at a solution that is principled and minimally intrusive.
Why is it so important that we make a choice? I want to read this because it is very important to recognize why choices are so significant: “I believe every person is created as the steward of his or her own destiny with great power for a specific purpose: to share with others through service a reverence for life in a spirit of love”. No matter what our age, our experience or our position, we can dream a dream that will make a difference. We can have a mission that matters, the choices we make end up controlling the chooser.