Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me, as the Bloc's justice critic, to speak in the House today on the motion by the Canadian Alliance.
The motion under debate today does not concern exclusively the rights of gays and lesbians in this country, any more than the right of women to vote or equal rights for women concerns only women, or anti-Semitism concerns only Jewish people or racism concerns only Black people or the Muslim community in Quebec and Canada since September 11.
It concerns social justice and human rights, and it affects society as a whole, meaning each and every one of us.
It is important to establish the context surrounding this debate. Why, today, are parliamentarians being asked to debate such an important issue? It is because various courts have ruled on the matter. The Court of Appeal of British Columbia, the Court of Appeal for Ontario and the Superior Court of Quebec all ruled that the definition of marriage, which states that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others, was discriminatory.
These same three courts also ruled that, in a free and democratic society, changes to this definition could not be prevented. In a society governed by the rule of law, such as our own, the legislative branch's powers are limited by other powers, including the weight of the judiciary.
In a country or society with a charter or charters, such as the Quebec charter of rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the elected representatives must take great pains to carefully weigh what the courts say in their interpretation of the documents our societies are founded on.
The justice committee crossed Canada to listen to Quebeckers' and Canadians' opinions on this issue.
From Vancouver to Halifax to Nunavut, in all the regions of Canada, we listened, discussed, debated and worked with these people. At times, I felt extremely uncomfortable being a member of this committee.
It was uncomfortable for me, as a young heterosexual man, married for nearly ten years, with two kids, to be judging the relationship shared by two individuals testifying before us to say they wanted to get married, two men or two women who wanted to get married, who had been together for many years and who, in some cases, had children. Some would have me say that their love is not as good as mine, that their relationship is not as valid as mine.
I refuse to judge as not as good, right or valid as mine the relationship between two individuals who love each other.
Besides, and I have put this question to many witnesses, what difference does it make if my neighbour happens to be a homosexual and has the right to get married? What difference does it make in your own relationship? What difference does it make in my marriage, I having been married for ten years, as I said earlier?
If my best friend, my brother and perhaps someday my son, who knows, were to marry someone of the same sex, would that take anything away from the spousal relationship I have been in with my wife Lori for nearly ten years now? The answer is no.
To allow same-sex partners to marry does not take anything away from anybody. On the contrary, it affords more people an equal chance to celebrate the love they have for each other.
Our committee looked at four options. It is important that we consider these four options. These were: to keep marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others; to allow a form of civil union; to leave marriage up to organized religion; or to allow same-sex marriages.
Only one of these four options is in keeping with the Constitution. It is important that we, as lawmakers, base ourselves on legislation to find a solution that is consistent with this country's basic laws.
First, as I said at the beginning, the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others was found to be discriminatory by all three courts I mentioned earlier. When voting on such a major issue, parliamentarians will have to take that into account.
It was suggested by some that the federal Parliament approve some kind of civil union, of registered partnership or something of the sort.
Parliament cannot do that because family law comes under provincial jurisdiction. In matters of family law, the only things that come under federal jurisdiction are marriage and divorce. Any attempt by this Parliament to create another form of union under family law would be unconstitutional because it is ultra vires the authority of Parliament. In other words, this would go beyond the authority of Parliament.
We have heard this many times, not only from our researchers but also from several constitutional experts who appeared before us. I asked each of these constitutional experts from various universities if this were the case and they unanimously agreed.
The third point, or the third possibility that we examined, was to leave marriage in the hands of religious bodies. In other words, all couples would have access to a form of civil union and churches would perform marriages.
That is something else Parliament cannot do. The authority that decides who may be married is the province. Parliament cannot say that a certain priest, rabbi or imam can or cannot marry two people. Members of the clergy can celebrate a marriage if at some point, within their religious order, they become civil status officers.
Again, on the basis of shared jurisdictions, Parliament must leave marriage up to the churches and create another type of union.
Finally, the only other option would be to allow same sex marriage.
I would like to come back to civil unions for a few moments if I may. Not only would they be unconstitutional, but this also raises two points that, in my view, should stop anyone who is in favour of this option, even if it is unconstitutional.
The first is that we would be accepting the separate but equal doctrine north of the 45th parallel. As we know, this doctrine was rejected in the United States many years ago. Accepting this doctrine would be a major step backward for Quebec and Canadian society.
The other question is simpler: if this type of civil union conferred the same rights and responsibilities as for a married couple, why not call it a marriage? Why complicate matters?
It is essential to remember that we are discussing civil and not religious marriage. Because freedom of religion has been mentioned many times in this debate, permit me to add a few words.
The concept of freedom of religion is part of this debate in two ways. The first is to ensure that churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are free not to marry same-sex couples. With freedom of religion already protected in the Quebec and Canadian charters, it seems to me that this is has been established.
We can make the analogy in two ways. To Catholics, we can say this. When people who marry in the Catholic faith get divorced, they cannot be remarried in the Catholic church. The Catholic church cannot be forced to remarry divorced persons because that is part of its dogma and its dogma is protected by freedom of religion.
It is the same thing, for example, in the synagogues. Most rabbis refuse to marry a Jew and a non-Jew. That is perfectly acceptable even if it appears discriminatory at first glance, because it is part of the Jewish religion and the rights are protected.
Thus, it is important to point out that permitting civil marriage between persons of the same sex will in no way oblige churches, temples, mosques or synagogues to marry same sex couples.
The other way freedom of religion enters this debate is this: There are denominations whose interpretation of the scriptures allows them to marry same sex couples. We could mention the United Church, the Unitarian Church and liberal Judaism, for example, which would like to marry same sex couples, but cannot because of the so-called traditional definition of marriage. Their freedom of religion is violated, because a religious definition of marriage that does not correspond with their own is being imposed on them.
Why impose on the United Church, which is, after all, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, the Catholic, Evangelical, or Orthodox Jewish vision of marriage? That is unacceptable and infringes upon their freedom of religion.
Let us reverse the roles and reverse the problem. If civil marriage were permitted between same sex spouses, thus allowing these denominations to marry same sex couples, it would protect the religious freedom of the Catholic Church, the Evangelical church and others not to marry same sex couples.
With this second solution, the religious freedom of all denominations is protected. Is that not the best solution when talking about freedom of religion?
Furthermore, I heard the leader of the Canadian Alliance say earlier that all Canadians of all origins who came here recognize or adopt or have adopted the so-called traditional definition of marriage, meaning the union of one man and one woman. Unless his comments and intentions aim to exclude members of the United Church, the Unitarian Church, the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto and the Liberal Judaism of the corpus politis in Quebec and Canada, I think he should come back to the House and say that this is not true. A great many denominations are in favour of this.
Also, I have rarely, if ever, heard a valid and strong argument against allowing same sex marriage. Who can say that two spouses of the same sex have no feelings for one another and cannot promise mutual support and fidelity to one another? Furthermore, I do not believe that, if they are unfaithful, they are any more or less unfaithful than heterosexuals.
We often hear that a man and woman who are a couple complement one another.
Take my own marriage as an example. When I got married, I did not sign a collective agreement. No one said, “this is women's work and that men's work”. How each half of the couple complements the other half will vary from one couple to the next, and this is true of both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
I have a very simple example. At my house, the tools belong to my wife. It might seem unusual, but many people think that complementing each other means that the man does the manual labour and the woman does other things. But I am all thumbs. I am horrible at fixing things. My wife, however, is not bad at it.
So, how we complement one another is not based on the fact that she is a woman and that I am a man, but simply on the fact that we are two people who love each other and who want our marriage to work. This includes dividing the labour between us. How the labour is divided varies from one heterosexual couple to the next, and I am sure that it varies from one homosexual couple to the next. Sexuality has nothing to do with it.
Then there is the argument of procreation, which has been raised so often. First of all, it is incorrect to say that homosexual couples cannot have children, because they are able to adopt. Second, there are technologies that can enable them to have children.
Yesterday we met a charming young man at the press conference of the Quebec Coalition for Same-sex Relationship Recognition. Robby has two mothers and yet has absolutely no psychological problems. Some claim that children with two parents of the same sex will have all kinds of problems. This is a well-adjusted young man, intelligent and well-spoken, who strikes me as being perfectly healthy. I mention this just to show that now same sex couples can have children.
The other issue raised by this matter of procreation, or reproduction, is whether this is the primary objective of marriage. If so, what about heterosexual couples who cannot have children? Would women past menopause or heterosexual men who are impotent not have the right to marry also? No one would want to take away their right to marry because they cannot have children.
So it is wrong to say that the primary objective of marriage is reproduction, procreation, unless consistency is applied and an expiration date is assigned: “If you have no children by such and such a date, your marriage is invalid.” There must be consistency.
In conclusion, contrary to what the leader of the Canadian Alliance says, it is a matter of human rights. It is a matter of fundamental justice. The only way parliamentarians can prevent same sex couples from marrying is to do away with their rights, and those rights are recognized by the courts.
It is all very well to skate around the issue, but the crux of the matter is this: are we prepared, as parliamentarians—regardless of what we think of homosexuals and their relationships—to do away with their fundamental rights. If we go that route, and do away with the rights of that minority, then which minority will be next?
My wish in closing is for my five-year-olds to grow up in a society that is open and generous, not merely tolerant, a society which accepts and embraces difference. In voting against this motion, we will make it possible for them to grow up to vote in such a society.