House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.


Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

February 16th, 2005 / 3:45 p.m.


Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Do you remember when the Prime Minister was a leadership candidate and wanted a democratic and respectful debate on this issue. On this side of the House, we hope that he and the members of his party will keep that promise during the course of this debate.

In August 2003, the Prime Minister, then a candidate for the Liberal leadership, who seemed very concerned with democracy and parliamentary reform, said that, “The courts having spoken, I believe that it's very important that Parliament speaks and that Parliament speaks through the voices of its representatives: members of Parliament. And what that essentially means is that this has got to be a debate that is civil, not a debate on which either side ascribes motivation, questions the motivation or ascribes blame, that in fact that the debate really deal with the fundamental social values of the country. And I think that that is what's going to happen”.

“There are going to be people who are going to raise other ways of looking at this. There are going to be people who will deal, for instance, who are going to raise the issue of civil union. And it may well be that they will raise solutions to the impediment that civil unions might provide. And I think that's an essential role of Parliament. And I think it's the kind of thing we should listen to”.

The Prime Minister had it right then, back in his democratic deficit fighting days as a leadership candidate. I hope he will remember his words of a year and a half ago and will not resort to the questioning of motives that he, his justice minister and others have increasingly resorted to in recent weeks when we propose the very policy on this issue that the Prime Minister used to win the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

As the Prime Minister invited us to do, I do want to engage in this debate about fundamental social values. I do want to discuss how compromise proposals like civil unions may be able to resolve some of the impediments the Prime Minister noted. I hope the Prime Minister will extend to me and roughly half the members of the House and roughly two-thirds of the country who support the traditional definition of marriage, the courtesy of an open debate without facing spurious charges of bigotry or bad faith from the Prime Minister, his spin doctors or his media allies.

My position on the definition of marriage is well known, because it is quite clear. It is not derived from personal prejudice or political tactics, as some Liberal MPs would have us believe with their usual air of moral superiority. My position, and that of most of the members of my party, is based on a very solid foundation and time tested values.

I also want to point out that the members of my party, including those in our shadow cabinet, are perfectly free to vote according to their conscience without my interference.

It will come as no surprise to anybody to know that I support the traditional definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, as expressed in our traditional common law. I believe this definition of marriage has served society well, has stood the test of time and is in fact a foundational institution of society. In my view the onus is on those who want to overturn such a fundamental social institution to prove that it is absolutely necessary, that there is no other compromise that can respect the rights of same sex couples while still preserving one of the cornerstones of our society and its many cultures.

Up until a few years ago, even within the modern era of the charter, Canadian law and Canadian society took for granted that marriage was intrinsic, by definition, an opposite sex institution. So obvious was this that until now a formal marriage statute has never been adopted by Parliament. This view was not even restricted to the numerous faces and cultures that have populated our great country from all corners of the earth, though it has been a universal view among them.

It has been a widespread view beyond religion as well. For example, the renowned McGill medical and legal ethicist, Dr. Margaret Somerville, a secular scholar operating in a public university without confessional or religious orientation, has argued that marriage is inherently an opposite sex institution. She points out that while social institutions can and should change in some of their accidental trappings, there are also inherent features that cannot change. As she writes:

Institutions have both inherent and collateral features. Inherent features define the institution and cannot be changed without destroying the institution. Collateral features can be changed without such impact. We rightly recognized that women must be treated as equal partners with men within marriage. While that changed the power of husbands over their wives, it simply changed a collateral feature of marriage. Recognizing same-sex marriage would change its inherent nature.

In a similar vein, former Supreme Court Justice Gérard La Forest, speaking on behalf of four judges in the majority in the Egan decision, the last case by the way where the Supreme Court addressed the definition of marriage directly, famously said the following:

Marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of long-standing philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'être transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.

I point out again, this is what the Supreme Court of Canada actually said, not, as the Prime Minister emphasizes, mere speculation about what it may say in the future. The statement was also written in 1995, over a decade after adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it remains the only commentary on the fundamental definition of marriage in any Supreme Court decision.

Even years after Justice La Forest's statements, members of the Liberal government still denied any hidden agenda to change the definition of marriage. In fact, the Deputy Minister stood in the House in 1999 and said the following on behalf of the government:

We on this side agree that the institution of marriage is a central and important institution in the lives of many Canadians. It plays an important part in all societies worldwide, second only to the fundamental importance of family to all of us.

The institution of marriage is of great importance to large numbers of Canadians, and the definition of marriage as found in the hon. member's motion is clear in law.

As stated in the motion, the definition of marriage is already clear in law. It is not found in a statute, but then not all law exists in statutes, and the law is no less binding and no less the law because it is found in the common law instead of in a statute.

The definition of marriage, which has been consistently applied in Canada, comes from an 1866 British case which holds that marriage is “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. That case and that definition are considered clear law by ordinary Canadians, by academics and by the courts. The courts have upheld the constitutionality of that definition.

The Ontario Court, General Division, recently upheld in Layland and Beaulne the definition of marriage. In that decision a majority of the court stated the following:

—unions of persons of the same sex are not “marriages”, because of the definition of marriage. The applicants are, in effect, seeking to use s. 15 of the Charter to bring about a change in the definition of marriage. I do not think the Charter has that effect.

I am aware, as are other ministers, that recent court decisions and resulting media coverage have raised concern around the issue of same sex partners. It appears that the hon. member believes that the motion is both necessary and effective as a means to keep the Government of Canada from suddenly legislating the legalization of same sex marriages. That kind of misunderstanding of the intention of the government should be corrected.

Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages.

I fundamentally do not believe that it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate the equality issues around same sex partners which now face us as Canadians. The courts have ruled that some recognition must be given to the realities of unmarried cohabitation in terms of both opposite sex and same sex partners. I strongly believe that the message to the government and to all Canadian governments from the Canadian public is a message of tolerance, fairness and respect for others.

Marriage has fundamental value and importance to Canadians and we do not believe on this side of the House that importance and value is in any way threatened or undermined by others seeking to have their long term relationships recognized. I support the motion for maintaining the clear legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Thus spoke at great length the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, then justice minister, in this chamber less than six years ago.

Today, for making statements that are identical and for identical reasons, members of the government side resort to terms like bigot, reactionary and human rights violators. The hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty of the government and some of its members at this point is frankly staggering.

Fundamentally, what has changed since the government, including the Prime Minister, voted for the traditional definition of marriage in 1999?

On this side, we do not believe that merely on the basis of lower court decisions, upheld only because the government refused to appeal, them that a fundamental social institution must be abolished or irretrievably altered. Only a free vote of the Parliament of Canada is an appropriate way to resolve such fundamental social issues.

As I say, I have made it clear that I and most of the members on this side of the House will vote against the bill as it now stands. We will vote to uphold the traditional definition of marriage. Those in this party, even in my shadow cabinet who consciously feel different, who believe that the definition of marriage should change, will have the full rights to express and vote their position on this subject.

My party wanted to adopt a reasonable position respectful of every social group. We also think our position represents the feelings and convictions of the majority of Canadians.

As the official opposition in a minority Parliament, we feel it is insufficient to oppose. We must also put forward a constructive alternative. We have discussed this issue and wrestled with this issue in our own caucus, as have Canadians in living rooms, kitchens, coffee shops and church basements across the country.

I know and we all know and understand that this is difficult. The issue involves all kinds of aspects of life that are very close to personal identity, to sexual identity which for many people has been a difficult path, cultural tradition and ethnic identity and of course personal faith in one's relationship to their God.

However, while there is no perfect answer, and there is no perfect answer that will satisfy everyone, we believe we can and should offer a compromise that would win the support of the vast majority of Canadians who seek some middle ground on the issue.

In our discussion with Canadians we find there are three groups in public opinion.

At the one end there is a significant body of opinion, led today by the Prime Minister, which believes that the equality rights of gays and lesbians trump all other considerations, trumping any rights to religious faith, any religious expression or any multicultural diversity, and that any restriction on the right to same sex marriage is unjustifiable discrimination and a denial of human rights.

At the other end, there is an equally significant body that thinks that marriage is such a fundamental social institution, not only recognized by law but sanctified by faith throughout the world and throughout history, that any compromise in terms of recognizing homosexual relationships is unacceptable.

However, we believe that the vast majority of Canadians believe in some aspects of both and they are somewhere in the middle. They believe that marriage is a fundamental distinct institution, but that same sex couples can have equivalent rights and benefits and should be recognized and protected.

We believe that our proposals speak to the majority of Canadians who stand in this middle ground and frankly, who seek such a middle ground. Our proposal is that the law should continue to recognize the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, but at the same time we would propose that other forms of union, however structured, by appropriate provincial legislation, whether called registered partnerships, domestic partnerships, civil unions or whatever, should be entitled to the same legal rights, privileges and obligations as marriage.

Many of these types of unions are already subject to provincial jurisdiction under their responsibility for civil law. However, there are issues affecting rights and benefits within the federal domain, and our party would ensure that for all federal purposes those Canadians living in other forms of union would be recognized as having equal rights and benefits under federal law as well.

What we put forward, in my judgment, is the real Canadian way. The Canadian way is not the blindly, ideological interpretation of the charter put forward by the Prime Minister. It is not a case where one side utterly vanquishes the other in a difficult debate on social issues. It is a constructive way, and as debate in other jurisdictions has shown, and I draw this to the attention of the House, this debate will not reach a conclusion or social peace until equal rights, multicultural diversity and religious freedom are balanced.

We also oppose the government's bill because it is a clear threat to religious freedom. We are proposing amendments that will prevent any religious discrimination within the sphere of federal authority.

This bill, by failing to find a reasonable compromise, a reasonable middle ground on the central question of marriage, is fundamentally flawed.

There is a second major flaw. The so-called protection that the government has offered for even basic religious freedom is, frankly, laughably inadequate. It is totally dishonest to suggest that it provides real protection.

The government has only proposed one meagre clause to protect religious freedom, a clause which states that religious officials will not be forced to solemnize marriages, but the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that this clause is ultra vires. It falls within the provincial responsibility for the solemnization of marriage. Frankly, this section of the bill illustrates the depth of the government's hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty in this legislation.

On the one hand, the government and its allies claim that any attempt to retain the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional on the basis of a decision the Supreme Court has not made and has refused to make. On the other hand, it is happy to insert into its bill a clause which the Supreme Court has already ruled is unconstitutional and outside of federal jurisdiction.

The government's constitutionally useless clause purports to protect churches and religious officials from being forced to solemnize same sex marriages against their beliefs, but this threat has always been only one of many possibilities. We note the Prime Minister did not choose to address a single other possibility. What churches, temples, synagogues and mosques fear today is not immediately the future threat of forced solemnization, but dozens of other threats to religious freedom, some of which have already begun to arrive and some of which will arrive more quickly in the wake of this bill.

As Catholic priest and writer, Father Raymond de Souza wrote last year in the prestigious religious journal First Things :

That is the worst-case scenario of state expansion. But state expansion will likely pass other milestones on its way there, eroding religious liberty on questions related to marriage. First it will be churches forced to rent out their halls and basements for a same-sex couple’s wedding reception. Then it will be religious charities forced to recognize employees in same-sex relationships as legally married. Then it will be religious schools not being allowed to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage. Then it will be a hierarchical or synodal church not being allowed to discipline an errant priest or minister who performs a civilly legal but canonically illicit same-sex marriage. All of this can happen short of the worst-case scenario specifically exempted in the federal government’s proposed law.

We have already seen some of these things come to pass since this article was written in human rights tribunals and lower courts across the country. We have already seen a Catholic Knights of Columbus hall challenged before the B.C. Human Rights Commission for refusing to grant permission for a same sex wedding reception on church owned property.

We have seen civil marriage commissioners in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who have religious or philosophical objections to same sex marriage, removed or threatened to be removed from positions by their government. We have heard the federal Minister responsible for Democratic Reform saying such employees should be punished or fired.

We have seen the Minister of International Trade saying that churches, including the Catholic Church in Quebec, have no right to be involved in any such debate. These may only be the beginning of a chilling effect on religious freedom for those groups and individuals who continue not to believe in same sex marriage.

Indeed, given the ferocity of the Prime Minister's new position, given the refusal to compromise, given the belief that any opposition to same sex marriage is akin to racial discrimination, the attack on religious freedom will inevitably continue on any aspect of religion that interfaces in any way with public life.

There are things, of course, that are within the federal sphere that can protect religious freedom. Parliament can ensure that no religious body will have its charitable status challenged because of its beliefs or practices regarding them. Parliament could ensure that beliefs and practices regarding marriage will not affect the eligibility of a church, synagogue, temple or religious organization to receive federal funds, for example, federal funds for seniors' housing or for immigration projects run by a church.

Parliament could ensure that the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Broadcasting Act are not interpreted in a way that would prevent the expression of religious beliefs regarding marriage.

Should the bill survive second reading, we will propose amendments in areas like these to ensure that in all areas subject to federal jurisdiction nobody will be discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs or practices regarding marriage.

The Prime Minister and several of his ministers have dishonestly claimed that the use of the notwithstanding clause was inevitable in order to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. That is not true, and such arguments are unworthy of a conscientious parliamentarian, especially someone who is a lawyer.

In fact, this Parliament can protect the institution of traditional marriage very well and respect the rights and privileges of those who chose another form of union, without departing from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in our Constitution.

Some people have suggested that we cannot do what we propose to do; that is, preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman while extending equal rights and other forms of union without invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution.

I am going to take a little time on this. It is red herring argument, but we might as well spell it out. The attack is dishonest on several levels. First of all, and this is important when we start talking about the notwithstanding clause, the Liberal Party and this Prime Minister have no leg to stand on when it comes to preaching about protecting human rights and the notwithstanding clause. It was none other than Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the author of the charter, who accepted the notwithstanding clause. Far from believing it to be a necessary evil to win support for the charter, he promised to use it. Specifically, he promised the late Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter that he would use the notwithstanding clause to uphold Canada's legislation on abortion if it were struck down by a future Supreme Court.

In the more recent debate over same sex marriage, in an earlier phase of it, this Prime Minister promised that he would use the notwithstanding clause should a court ever infringe on religious freedom, although of course no one takes his commitments to religion seriously any more.

In fact, this Prime Minister was a member of Parliament from Quebec in 1989 when the provincial government in his province used the notwithstanding clause to ban English on commercial signs. He had next to nothing to say about it then and in the subsequent Liberal leadership race in less than a year he supported the notwithstanding clause.

I have said I would not use section 33 to preserve the traditional definition of marriage because quite simply it is not necessary in this case. The Supreme Court of Canada has not ruled on the constitutionality of the traditional definition of marriage. The court pointedly declined to do so in the recent same sex reference case, despite a clear request from the Prime Minister that it do so. In fact, the court openly speculated on the possibility that it could uphold the traditional definition. Therefore, there is simply no reason to use or discuss the notwithstanding clause in the absence of a Supreme Court decision, especially when it involves precedent based only on common law judgments.

Many legal experts, many of them coincidentally people who have been activists involved in these cases or who are close to the Liberal government, have said that the courts are likely to rule that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional, but these same legal experts said that the Supreme Court would find the traditional definition of marriage unconstitutional in the reference case and they were wrong.

We have no reason to believe that the crystal balls in the justice department or in the law faculties are operating any better after the reference case than they did before it. Furthermore, up until now the courts have largely been interpreting a common law definition of marriage; in other words, previous court judgments not statutes reflecting the democratic will of Parliament. The courts have indicated clearly that statute law requires greater deference than common law.

In the case of R. v. Swain in 1991 then Chief Justice Lamer wrote in the majority the following:

Parliament, because of judicial deference, need not always choose the absolutely least intrusive means to attain its objectives but must come within a range of means which impair Charter rights as little as is reasonably possible. There is no room for judicial deference, however, where a common law, judge-made rule is challenged under the Charter.

There are several precedents of Parliament passing statutes without using the notwithstanding clause to reverse decisions made by the courts including the Supreme Court under common law and the courts have accepted these exercises of parliamentary sovereignty.

For instance, in 1995 Parliament passed Bill C-72 reversing the Supreme Court's decision in Daviault, a decision which allowed extreme intoxication as a criminal defence.

In 1996 Parliament passed Bill C-46 reversing the Supreme Court's decision in O'Connor, which allowed the accused to access medical records of the victims in sexual assault cases. When this new law was challenged in the subsequent Mills case, the Supreme Court ruled in a decision by Justices McLachlin and Iacobucci:

It does not follow from the fact that a law passed by Parliament differs from a regime envisaged by the Court in the absence of a statutory scheme, that Parliament's law is unconstitutional. Parliament may build on the Court's decision, and develop a different scheme as long as it remains constitutional. Just as Parliament must respect the Court's rulings, so the Court must respect Parliament's determination that the judicial scheme be improved. To insist on slavish conformity would belie the mutual respect that underpins the relationship between the courts and legislature that is so essential to our constitutional democracy.

We have every reason to believe that the Supreme Court, if it were eventually asked to rule on a new statutory definition of marriage combined with full and equal recognition of legal rights and benefits for same sex couples might well choose to act in a much more deferential manner toward the Canadian Parliament than lower courts showed toward ancient, British made, common law definitions.

I should point out that I am far from alone in saying this. Law Professor Alan Brudner at the University of Toronto wrote in the Globe and Mail :

--the judicially declared unconstitutionality of the common law definition of marriage does not entail the unconstitutionality of parliamentary legislation affirming the same definition.

He cited R. v. Swain and wrote, “For all we know, therefore, courts may uphold opposite sex marriage as a reasonable limit on the right against discrimination when the restriction comes from a democratic body”.

To those in government, in academia and the media who have argued that a pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause is the only way to uphold the traditional definition of marriage, he said the following:

These arguments misconceive the role of a notwithstanding clause in a constitutional democracy. Certainly, that role cannot be to protect laws suspected of being unconstitutional against judicial scrutiny....Rather, the legitimate role of a notwithstanding clause in a constitutional state is to provide a democratic veto over a judicial declaration of invalidity, where the court's reasoning discloses a failure to defer to the parliamentary body on a question of political discretion....But if that is true, then the notwithstanding clause should be invoked by Parliament only after the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of a law. And neither it, nor any provincial court outside Quebec has yet ruled on whether democratic legislation restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is valid.

I would add, and this is important, that Professor Brudner is neither a supporter of my party nor even a supporter of my position on the marriage issue. He was not even an adviser to my leadership campaign, unlike the principal organizer of a recent letter from a group of law professors backing the minister's decision.

In short, we have every reason to believe if the House moved to bring in a reasonable, democratic, compromise solution, one which defined in statute that marriage remains the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, which extended equal rights and benefits to couples living in other forms of unions, and which fully protected freedom of religion to the extent possible under federal law, that the Supreme Court of Canada would honour such a decision by Parliament.

The courts refused to answer the Prime Minister's question on the constitutional validity of the common law opposite sex definition of marriage because they did not want to pre-empt the work of Parliament. That suggests to me that they would be even more likely to defer to the judgment of Parliament when faced with a recently passed statute.

The members of the House, starting with the Minister of Justice, should actually read the same sex reference decision. I ask, if the Supreme Court actually believed that the traditional definition of marriage was a fundamental violation of human rights as, say, restricting aboriginal Canadians or non-Caucasian immigrants from voting, do we really think the Supreme Court would have engaged in an analysis of the possibility that it could uphold such a law even hypothetically? The answer is, of course not.

The government has also claimed and is still claiming that marriage between persons of the same sex is a fundamental right. That is another erroneous opinion and a totally specious argument the government wants to spread. Government spokespersons bring disgrace on themselves, however, when they wrongly try to invoke the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to cover up their threadbare arguments.

I want to address an even more fundamental question. That is the question of the issue of human rights as it pertains to same sex marriage and the use and the abuse of the term “human rights” in this debate which has been almost without precedent.

Fundamental human rights are not a magician's hat from which new rabbits can constantly be pulled out. The basic human rights we hold dear: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and equality before the law, the kind of rights that are routinely violated by the Prime Minister's good friends in states such as Libya and China, are well understood and recognized around the world. These rights do not depend on Liberal bromides or media spinners for their defence.

The Prime Minister cannot through grand rhetoric turn his political decision to change the definition of marriage into a basic human right because it is not. It is simply a political judgment. It is a valid political option if one wants to argue for it; it is a mistaken one in my view, but it is only a political judgment. Same sex marriage is not a human right. This is not my personal opinion. It is not the opinion of some legal adviser. This reality has already been recognized by such international bodies as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Mr. Speaker, I refer you to New Zealand's Quilter case. In 1997 the New Zealand court of appeal was asked to rule on the validity of the common law definition of marriage in light of the New Zealand bill of rights which, unlike our charter, explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. New Zealand's court ruled that the opposite sex requirement of marriage was not discriminatory. So the plaintiffs in this case made a complaint to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that the New Zealand court violated the international covenant for the protection of rights to which New Zealand, like Canada, is a signator. But the UNCHR rejected this complaint in 2002, in effect upholding that same sex marriage is not a basic universal human right.

If same sex marriage were a fundamental human right, we have to think about the implications. If same sex marriage were a fundamental right, then countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, France, Denmark and Sweden are human rights violators. These countries, largely under left wing governments, have upheld the traditional definition of marriage while bringing in equal rights and benefits regimes for same sex couples, precisely the policy that I and the majority of the Conservative caucus propose.

Even those few countries that have brought in same sex marriage at the national level, currently only the Netherlands and Belgium, did not do so because their own courts or international bodies had defined this as a matter of human rights. They did so simply as the honest public policy choice of their legislatures. In fact, both the Netherlands and Belgium legislated some differences in same sex marriage as opposed to opposite sex marriage in many areas but particularly in areas like adoption.

In other words, no national or international court, or human rights tribunal at the national or international level, has ever ruled that same sex marriage is a human right.

The Minister of Justice, when he was an academic and not a politician, would have appreciated the distinction between a legal right conferred by positive law and a fundamental human right which all people should enjoy throughout the world. Today he is trying to conflate these two together, comparing a newly invented Liberal policy to the basic and inalienable rights and freedoms of humanity.

I have to say the government appears incapable of making these distinctions. On the one hand the Liberals are friends of dictatorships that routinely violate human rights to whom they look for photo ops or corporate profits. On the other hand they condemn those who disagree with their political decisions as deniers of human rights, even though they held the same positions themselves a few years, or even a few months ago.

Quite frankly the Liberal Party, which drapes itself in the charter like it drapes itself in the flag, is in a poor position to boast about its human rights record. Let us not forget it was the Liberal Party that said none is too many when it came to Jews fleeing from Hitler. It was the Liberal Party that interned Japanese Canadians in camps on Canada's west coast, an act which Pierre Trudeau refused to apologize or make restitution for, leaving it to Brian Mulroney to see justice done. Just as it was Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Diefenbaker who took the great initiatives against apartheid, Mr. Diefenbaker with his Bill of Rights, and I did not see a notwithstanding clause in that. It was the Liberal Party that imposed the War Measures Act.

Today it is the Liberal Party that often puts its business interests ahead of the cause of democracy and human rights in places like China. Recently in China it was the member for Calgary Southeast who had to act on human rights while the Prime Minister went through the diplomatic moves.

The Liberal Party has spent years repressing free speech rights of independent political organizations from Greenpeace to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that might want to speak out at election time. It has consistently violated property rights and has put the rights of criminals ahead of those of law abiding gun owners. The Liberal government has ignored the equality rights of members of minority religious groups in education in the province of Ontario even after international tribunals have demanded action.

I am not here to say that this party's or this country's record on human rights is perfect. It is far from perfect; we can read about it in any number of places. However, the Liberal Party of Canada is simply in no position, either past or present, to lecture anyone about charter rights or human rights.

In this debate the government has resorted at times to demagoguery, attacking our position with equal intellectual dishonesty. The government has demonstrated its fundamental disregard for the opinions of a majority of Canadian men and women of good will.

In particular, it has been unforgiveably insensitive with regard to all cultural communities in this country for which marriage is a most deeply rooted value.

Nowhere have the Liberals been more vociferous in their attempts to link same sex marriage to minority rights than among Canada's ethnic and cultural minority communities. Yet at the same time, they have clearly wanted these communities excluded from this debate. Why? Because, to their embarrassment, the vast majority of Canada's cultural communities, setting aside those groups dependent on Liberal funding, see through the Liberals' attempt to link basic human rights to the government's opposition to their traditional practices of marriage.

Many new Canadians chose this country, fleeing regimes that did and do persecute religious, ethnic and political minorities. They know what real human rights abuses are. They know that recognizing traditional marriage in law while granting equal benefits to same sex couples is not a human rights abuse akin to what they may have seen in Rwanda or China or Iran.

What these new Canadians also understand, and what this government does not, is that there are some things more fundamental than the state and its latest fad. New Canadians know that marriage and family are not the creature of the state but pre-exist the state and that the state has some responsibility to uphold and defend these institutions.

New Canadians know that their deeply held cultural traditions and religious belief in the sanctity of marriage as a union of one man and one woman will be jeopardized by a law which declares them unconstitutional and brands their supporters as human rights violators.

New Canadians know that their cultural values are likely to come under attack if this law is passed. They know that we are likely to see disputes in the future over charitable status for religious or cultural organizations that oppose same sex marriage, or over school curriculum and hiring standards in both public and private religious and cultural minority schools.

New Canadians, many of whom have chosen Canada as a place where they can practise their religion and raise their family in accordance with their beliefs and without interference from the state, know that these legal fights will limit and restrict their freedom to honour their faith and their cultural practices.

Of course, in all of these cases, courts and human rights commissions will attempt to balance the basic human rights of freedom of religion and expression with the newly created legal right to same sex marriage, but as our justice critic has remarked, we have a pattern: wherever courts and tribunals are faced with a clash between equality rights and religious rights, equality rights seem to trump.

The Liberals may blather about protecting cultural minorities, but the fact is that undermining the traditional definition of marriage is an assault on multiculturalism and the practices in those communities.

All religious faiths traditionally have upheld the belief that marriage is a child-centred union of a man and a woman, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim. All of these cultural communities, rooted in those faiths, will find their position in society marginalized.

I believe the Liberal vision of multiculturalism is really just a folkloristic one. The Liberals invite Canadians from cultural communities to perform folk dances and wear colourful costumes, but they are not interested in the values, beliefs and traditions of new Canadians unless they conform to the latest fashions of Liberalism. All races, colours and creeds are welcome in Liberal Canada as long as they check their faith and conscience at the door.

That may be the Liberal vision for Canada in the 21st century, but it is not ours. In our Canada, vibrant cultural communities will be allowed to share not only their food and their dress but their beliefs and aspirations for themselves and their families.

The conscience of all members of this House is involved in the decision we must reach. I urge all the men and women sitting here today to set aside all partisan considerations and all personal ambitions, in this extraordinary situation, and to listen to the voice of their conscience and the voice of their duty, as representatives of the people of Canada. Yes, this decision may have repercussions in a day or in a month, but we must make it while thinking of past and future generations.

The decision that we are being asked to make on this bill is a difficult one. For many, the decision we make on the bill will be one of the most difficult decisions they will be called upon to make as members of Parliament, but before we all do so, let us remember one thing clearly, because this is where I object most strongly to what the Prime Minister said.

Regardless of what the Prime Minister says, we all do have a choice in the position we take here. We all know that the House is closely divided. I think we all know that if it were a truly free vote, if the ministers like the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the government House leader, the Minister of Natural Resources, the associate Minister of National Defence, the Minister of State for Northern Ontario, and many others, were free to vote their consciences, we know this bill would fail.

This bill is too important to be decided on the basis of a whipped vote, whether the formal whip that is being applied to a minister, or the informal carrots and sticks that are being applied to other members. I appeal to the consciences of those on the government side.

I know that many of the government members in their hearts believe in the traditional definition of marriage and know that we are talking about this today only because the Prime Minister has literally no other legislation for Parliament.

I ask them to join with us to defeat the bill and urge the adoption of another which reflects the practice in other advanced democracies and which reflects our own honourable traditions of compromise.

There are fundamental questions here. Will this society be one which respects the longstanding basic social institution of marriage or will it be one that believes even our most basic structures can be reinvented overnight for the sake of political correctness?

Will this society be one which respects and honours the religious and cultural minorities or one which gradually whittles away their freedoms and their ability to practise their beliefs?

Will this be a country in which Parliament will rule on behalf of the people or one where a self-selected group of lawyers or experts will define the parameters of right and wrong?

All of these questions are in our hands to answer. It is up to all of our consciences. It is not what the Prime Minister and the PMO advisers tell us is most expedient; it should be based on our consciences and what our constituents tell us to do.

Mr. Speaker, before I leave the floor, I would like to move an amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following:

This House declines to give second reading to Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, since the principle of the bill fails to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others and fails to recognize and extend to other civil unions established under the laws of a province, the same rights, benefits and obligations as married persons.

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The Speaker

The question is on the amendment. Resuming debate.

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4:40 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions with the other parties and I believe that you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That today's government orders be extended to allow for one speaker from each recognized party on Bill C-38.

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4:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

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Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

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4:40 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the debate taking place in this chamber today is a fundamental one. The very fact that we can debate, in all civility, a matter as emotionally charged as same sex marriage is proof of the democratic nature of Quebec and Canadian societies.

Not that long ago, less than a century ago even, women did not have access to another fundamental institution: the right to vote. We have come a long way since then. Today, no one would dare challenge women's right to vote, because it is a fundamental right.

In another hundred years, I believe no one will be challenging the right of two persons of the same sex to join together in the institution of marriage on the same basis as a man and woman. This particular change is part of a broader, universal movement to advance rights and democracy. We must bear this in mind when we are called upon to vote on this matter.

Setting partisanship and even religious and political convictions aside, we must ask ourselves how we would answer another human being who wants to marry his or her partner of the same sex out of love and asks us “Why are you denying me marriage?”. Does this mean that love between same sex partners is not equal to that between a man and a woman? Does this mean that love between partners of the same sex does not exist, or should not exist?

Are there still MPs in this place who believe that love, whether it be between two people of the same sex or between a man and a woman, is something to be condemned? I would ask my colleagues to ask themselves this before voting: If they have a son or daughter, or even a grandson or grand-daughter, who some day wants to marry their same sex partner, and this beloved person cannot do so, what answer will they have to justify such a blatant infringement of basic human rights? How will they be able to console this family member, who has realized that he or she is, ultimately, a second-class citizen?

The debate on same sex marriage is, ultimately, a question of citizenship. No one can say that Quebec or Canada are just societies if the people of this country are not all treated equally.

Despite its tragedies, the French Revolution represents an important milestone in the long history of democracy and law. The expression liberty, fraternity, equality is an integral part of this debate. All human beings are born free and equal under the law. Do we believe that all Quebeckers and all Canadians are born free and equal under the law? If we do believe this, we must, in good conscience, vote in favour of the bill this government has finally introduced. If we believe, as I do, that giving women the right to vote was true democratic progress, we must vote in favour of this bill.

Fraternity means that a human being necessarily considers all other human beings brothers and sisters. There are nations and there is also the great human family. When it is a question of fundamental rights, which are universal rights, it is a question of human fraternity. Fraternity means that we, particularly those of us elected to represent the public, must consider the suffering of our fellow citizens and do everything we can to eliminate that suffering. We have an opportunity to do so with this bill.

Gays and lesbians have suffered countless acts of discrimination over the years and even centuries.

When a man or a woman realizes that he or she is a homosexual and faces discrimination, rejection and denial of rights, they suffer. This can end in tragedy, driving some to suicide.

One thing is certain: as long as the love shared by same sex partners is not recognized as something totally normal and acceptable, this suffering will continue. Parliamentarians alone cannot eliminate this suffering, but we can certainly send a very strong signal here, in Canada, and around the world by passing this bill.

In doing so, we will help alleviate human suffering. We will add a block to the democratic building which is slowly but surely being built year after year. We will help make our societies more just.

This bill does not legislate matters of the church or religion. It is clear that this bill does not interfere in any way in religious rites or practice. This bill will not require religious communities to marry same sex partners. We must therefore agree that this bill does not, in any way, take anything away from the various forms of worship in Quebec and Canada.

I have great respect for the hon. members' convictions, whether I share them or not. With all respect, I must reaffirm that the religion of some should not become the law for others. While the right to freedom of religion exists and ought to remain a basic principle of our societies, religion must not impose its own principles on society at large and serve as the foundation for the law governing us all.

Canada and Quebec are secular governments and have to remain secular. I do understand that, based on religious conviction or out of concern for faithfully representing our fellow citizens, some of us are feeling great pressure. However, this is a matter of conscience and if, when the time comes to vote, our conscience is at odds with our religious convictions and the opinion of the majority of our constituents, our conscience should prevail. As members of the House, how could we, in all good conscience, oppose liberty, equality and fraternity by voting against this bill?

Some people would reduce this debate to a purely legal level and say that same sex spouses do not need marriage, because they have access to civil union. I would point out that opposite sex spouses also have access to civil union. Why deny some people the rights that others enjoy? The question we are facing today is not only a legal one. Above all, it is a question of justice. It is a question of fundamental justice.

If a citizen has such health problems that he has become a danger to himself and others if he drives a car, the law may impose certain restrictions. But, in the case of same sex spouses, there is no difference. To claim, for example, that marriage is an institution reserved for those who can procreate and that, therefore, same sex spouses should be excluded, is insulting and rather absurd.

If that were the case, couples would have to be examined before they married to see if they were able to conceive. All couples of a certain age would have to be excluded from marriage. We can quickly see how absurd this reasoning is. Some people also say that marriage is a very old institution and that it would be dangerous to overturn it. I remind the House that authoritarian regimes are also very old institutions.

Is that a reason for refusing to move forward and adopt democratic practices?

Women were kept out of public life for thousands of years. They still are, unfortunately, in many countries. Is that a reason to accept it? Of course not.

Our common goal, here in this House, is to move forward, is it not? Is it not our role to act as agents of change to improve the lives of our fellow citizens? We have the privilege, by adopting this law, of helping many of our fellow citizens. And in doing so, we take absolutely nothing away from others. Everyone will win.

This government, and especially this Prime Minister, dithered a long time before introducing this bill. The Prime Minister wiggled out the first time, before the last election, by referring the matter to the Supreme Court. And yet a host of courts had already clearly stated their positions on this issue. The Prime Minister has finally lived up to his responsibilities by introducing this bill.

Now, some people are talking about a referendum. That proposal, although it is cloaked in the appearance of democracy, is thoroughly anti-democratic. The rights of a minority cannot be left to the discretion of the majority. It is contrary to common sense and contrary to the spirit of justice.

It is our responsibility to decide whether or not to pass this bill. We cannot complain that this House does not get enough of a say, only to avoid issues when the going gets tough. The moment of truth is fast approaching. We must decide and decide we will.

For the past few centuries, the greatest advances of western society have not been technological, economic or the like. The greatest advances by our societies have been democratic and based on freedom, equality and fraternity. This slow but sure progress has brought us to where we are today.

I would certainly not want to return to the past when no one had the right to vote, when freedom was still a theoretical notion, when a minority had rights, but a vast majority had none. I would not want to return to a time when slavery was accepted because it had always been around. I would not want to return to the days of the Inquisition.

To vote in favour of this bill is to embrace the progress that has been made in basic, universal rights. That is what we must do in all good conscience. In a few decades, the generations to come will find this perfectly natural. Historians will remark on the courage and sense of responsibility of the elected members of this House. They will remark on the fact that Quebec and Canada were trailblazers in the advancement of democratic civilization.

By voting in favour of this bill, we will be fully including gays and lesbians in our societies. We will be sending a very strong message that will surely make life a little easier for some of our fellow citizens. Of course some people will not be happy. But while this may go against their beliefs, they will not lose any rights. They will lose nothing but their illusions.

Marriage is a fundamental institution in our society. Let us ensure that Quebeckers and Canadians are born free and equal before the law. Let us ensure that Quebeckers and Canadians can live their entire life as equals before the law. For that to be the case, we must vote in favour of this bill.

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4:55 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition said that Parliament can legislate to preserve the traditional definition of marriage without invoking the notwithstanding clause, because the Supreme Court refused to answer the fourth question.

What does the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie have to say on this issue?

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5 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would say that the government should not have referred this bill to the Supreme Court, and that this is a question the answer to which we have known from the outset. We should have proceeded before the last election, regardless of the electoral considerations that were driving this government. Had it not been for the Prime Minister's dithering, the Leader of the Opposition would not have been able to raise this issue.

Having said that, in my opinion, there is no option but to use the notwithstanding clause if we want to prevent such a thing. Indeed, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms talks about reasonable limits, and it would be unreasonable to decide that, because of their sexual orientation, a man and a woman do not have the same rights. In my opinion, this is the fundamental issue.

I am also convinced that we must adopt this bill, and that we must do so at the earliest opportunity, to avoid dividing our society and to make it clear that the issues that we debated in the past, namely abortion and divorce—which took us to the same place—have now been accepted by society and are now behind us. Indeed, divorced people are no longer stigmatized, as they were in the 1960s.

Oddly, many people who were opposed to giving women the right to vote are now on the same side as those who, today, are opposed to same sex marriage.

This is what I meant when I talked about progress. Do we recognize that all people are born equal and free, and that they can live their lives equal and free? That is the fundamental issue.

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5 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague and leader of the Bloc the following question.

One of the arguments presented by opponents of same sex marriage, as formulated by the leader of the opposition, is that of freedom of religion and the fear that adopting Bill C-38 would interfere with that freedom.

Is the opposite not true? In other words, is it not true that today, if the bill does not pass, and same sex marriage remains illegal, religious groups—I am thinking of the United Church, the Unitarian Church, the reformed branch of Judaism—who want to marry same sex couples, will not be able to do so because same sex marriage is illegal. If Bill C-38 does pass, it would permit these people—meaning these groups—who want to marry same sex couples to do so, while also protecting the right of the Catholic Church, the Baptist Church and other religious groups not to marry same sex couples if they so choose. In other words, will we not achieve the appropriate balance by protecting the right of some to perform marriages if they so choose and the right of others to not perform such marriages, if that is their choice?

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5 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am in complete agreement with my colleague's logic. In short, it should be extremely clear that, in all the positions taken and all the legislation adopted here, the state must never impose rules on any religion. I think we all agree on this. However, I would also like us all to agree that religions must not impose rights and ways of doing things on the secular state.

I repeat: the religious beliefs of some must not become the law of the land. Respecting everyone means having deep respect for the religious beliefs of those who have them, but it also means respecting the beliefs of faiths other than our own. Those are two things.

It is extremely dangerous to have this confusion between state and church. This leads to the type of regime we condemn. This leads to the worst excesses. I am not targeting any religion in particular. All religions have experienced such excesses. I hope that, one day, all religions will repudiate them.

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5 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario


Bill Graham LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the leader of the Bloc Québécois on his contention that the religion of some must not become the law of others. This is, without contradiction, the true expression of the freedom we would all like to enjoy in this country. Many religions want to impose their laws on the world. What matters is that, in our society, we are all free to pursue our own religions and values. This is the basis of Canadian society.

I would like to ask the hon. member this. I come from Toronto, which has a strong gay and lesbian community. I believe that this community makes a contribution to our city. I believe that their being free and able to contribute as full fledged citizens helps to enrich Canada. That will strengthen our rights.

Would the hon. member agree that it is the same in Quebec? Our common rights are strengthened when we all enjoy the same rights and live in a society where everyone can contribute to the fullest of their abilities. Does the hon. member not agree with this statement as it relates to Quebec as well as to the rest of Canada?

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5:05 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree entirely with that statement. As hon. members know, the level of democracy in a society is measured by the respect it shows to its minorities. If we want these people to contribute fully to the well-being and growth of society in all its forms, in economic, cultural or sports terms, one of the most important conditions is that they be allowed to grow and be happy instead of being stigmatized.

Too many people have not fulfilled their potential because they felt restricted by their sexual orientation. Many rejected it, trying to escape themselves. But we do not choose our sexual orientation: we are born with it. To deny the reality is to say to some people that they should not have been born. I shall never tolerate such a thing.

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5:05 p.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member could help me out a little on the history around the world as we have looked at the issue of extending the vote to different people over time, and rightly so, but specifically with respect to extending the vote to women. It has been done in various regimes and was long overdue.

At the time the vote was extended to women, for example, were women called men? To my knowledge, that is not the case anywhere. When bringing a new group in to have those particular rights, one does not need to call them the same thing in order to give them the equal benefits and rights, which is what our party is proposing to do by giving equal benefits and rights without terming it the same.

Unless I missed something in history, and I am certainly open to being enlightened, has there ever been a time where, when extending the right to vote, women have been termed men?

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5:05 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member certainly missed something in history, which is the evolution of society, and I am sure of that.

Women were not called men. They were called nobodies. They simply did not exist. That was the problem. I do not want the same situation where people who do not have the same rights simply do not exist. We do not want to live in that kind of society. I want everybody to exist, not just by having a name, but by having the same rights and living under the same conditions, all of us, not just those who are not gays or lesbians. This is a question of justice and living with our own identities. It is not more than that.

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5:05 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we debate this historic bill in the House of Commons, my province of Ontario is preparing legislation because same sex marriage is happening already in Ontario. In fact, the Ontario Conservatives do not want that to become a wedge issue and are consenting to move it quickly through the chamber.

If this is already granted in the province of Ontario because some religious denominations have already chosen this as part of their faith service, how would he feel about having to strip that right away from that province?

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5:10 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think in this connection that we need to be very clear on the definition of marriage. I am a sovereignist—I am not telling the member anything he does not already know—but, as long as we are part of Canada, this is the place where the matter has to be determined, and where we simply have to at last accept what the courts have said.

Nevertheless, marriage ceremonies are a provincial responsibility. I have trouble seeing how people could oppose decisions made here and all those made in the appeal courts of seven provinces and one territory, and now by the Supreme Court, with its opinion. I think we must be very clear on that point.

The battle will, however, have to be fought in each of these jurisdictions. Some people in some provinces might well be tempted to say that they will not respect the Supreme Court opinion and that they will use another clause. This might be a temptation for some. Freedom is never won once and for all time. The battle is ongoing. It must be waged with determination, and the lines must be drawn so that things are made clear and people eventually understand how society is changing. This sometimes take a while, but generally it does come to pass.

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5:10 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, I am proud to lead off the debate today on Bill C-38, the civil marriage act.

I had hoped to be able to share this time with my leader, the member for Toronto--Danforth, but he is still recovering from the appendix surgery he had on the weekend. I know we all want to wish him a quick recovery. As a long time supporter of the gay and lesbian community, I know he will be following the debate this afternoon with great interest.

I am proud today to speak to this important legislation as an openly gay man. Thirty-one years ago I was a 19 year old student at the beginning of my university career. I was struggling with coming out as a gay person. For years I had known the terrible isolation of being in the closet, holding a secret that I dare not tell anyone for fear I would be ostracized, beaten or worse.

As a young gay man I saw little hope of a relationship and certainly little hope of a relationship that would be celebrated and honoured as my parents' and grandparents' relationships had been celebrated and honoured. It just was not an option. Gay relationships when discussed at all were usually seen as fleeting, furtive, secretive. In my closet I was led to believe that promiscuity would be the only option if I was to live as an openly gay person.

However that did not sit well with the values I had learned in my family, my church and my community. At that time my very limited experience in the gay community had not shown me other possibilities.

It was at that time that I heard in the media the story of a brave Winnipeg gay couple, Chris Vogel and Richard North. Back in 1974, Chris and Richard challenged the marriage laws and attempted to get a marriage licence in Manitoba. They did not get the licence but they found support in a Unitarian church where they were married after the reading of wedding bans. Their action meant so much to a closeted young man from a small Ontario city.

What a revelation they were to me. Imagine, two gay men willing to challenge the laws and challenge society to seek to make a lifelong commitment to each other. Perhaps after all there was hope that I too could find that kind of loving, creative, secure partnership.

It is not as though gay and lesbian couples were not making commitments to each other back then and for many years before that, but emerging from the isolation of the closet one really had to be lucky to find them.

When I moved to B.C. in 1979 the longest gay relationship I had personally ever encountered was one that lasted 11 months, and that was one of mine. Arriving in Vancouver, almost within weeks I met, through my church connections, two couples who had been together for over 25 years. I could not believe it. Bruce and Ed, Patrick and Rob seemed like the most remarkable people to me, making a relationship work in a society that refused to recognize the full worth of gay and lesbian people, making a relationship work without the support of family, the church, the law. It literally filled me with awe and with hope. Their example opened new possibilities for my life. I longed for the security of home and family. When I thought about a relationship that was my priority.

Twenty-four years ago I met my partner, Brian, at a meeting of gays and lesbians at the University of British Columbia held at the Lutheran Campus Centre. Twenty-four years ago we began a relationship that continues to this day.

In my relationship with Brian, I found the love I yearned for, the security I was seeking, the creative energy that nourishes me and the mystery that continues to astonish me.

Twenty-four years ago, Brian and I could not be married. We made our accommodation with those circumstances. We have been lucky to be supported in our life together by family, friends, colleagues and our church family. We have not yet chosen to be married but to have that choice is very important to us.

Chris Vogel and Richard North continue to celebrate anniversary after anniversary. Just recently, in fact on the same day the Supreme Court ruled on the government's reference on marriage, Chris and Richard received the Manitoba Human Rights Commitment Award for their many contributions to human rights in that province.

Chris and Richard have been joined by many other brave gay and lesbian couples in recent years, couples who have not been afraid to put their relationships in the public spotlight by challenging the laws on marriage which excluded them. These couples challenged the laws in Ontario, B.C., Quebec, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador and they won their point. It is their efforts that have brought us to this debate today.

These couples have had an important effect on those around them. They have shown many people, whatever their sexual orientation, the importance of making a lifelong commitment. They have championed marriage as an institution of value and worth in our society. They have been role models for young gay and lesbian people who still, far too often, remain isolated and alone in communities in every corner of this country.

In a society where far too many gay and lesbian young people choose suicide, they have shown a way of hope, pride and possibility. In a world that cries out for love and commitment, for responsibility and for right relationship, these couples have had the courage to publicly celebrate their lives together. They have had the courage to call society out of its intolerance and prejudice. They have had the courage to honour an institution central to our society and central to many of our dreams and ideals.

It is not just the couples who challenged the law before the courts. Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples have been married in Canada in the past year. They are all witnesses to love and commitment, role models each and every one. This has not been an attempt to change our society's understanding of marriage. These are couples who sought to be included in marriage as we understand it today, not change its values, ideals or traditions. They have willingly and enthusiastically sought out its responsibilities, obligations and duties. They seek the stability it will allow for them, for their children and for their families.

The bill before us is also not an attempt to change marriage. The bill expands the definition of marriage to include gay and lesbian couples. It allows gay and lesbian couples to access civil marriage in Canada. It does not fiddle with the ideals of marriage, the responsibilities of marriage, the obligations of marriage. It merely acknowledges that the full equality of gay and lesbian Canadians demands our inclusion in marriage, our access to that institution.

On Monday, I was honoured to share a podium with my colleagues from Vancouver East and Hochelaga. My colleague from Hochelaga is also openly gay. I remember very fondly the day he came out publicly. In fact, I sent him a fan letter that day. I have great respect for his work toward the full equality of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Quebec and Canada.

I am constantly proud to be associated with my sister from Vancouver East, who for many years was my member of Parliament and was the first member of Parliament in Canada to acknowledge that she was in a loving relationship with another woman. Her courage and her devotion to fighting for social change and justice inspire me daily.

I was honoured to share a podium with these hon. members as we explained why this debate was so crucial to us as members of the gay and lesbian community and as MPs. We made it clear that for us, this debate was not an abstract intellectual exercise, but that instead it was about how we live and love intimately, how we make personal commitments, how we celebrate our relationships. We spoke about how respect for the institution of marriage was a prime characteristic of our community's effort in this debate. We spoke about how being excluded from a key institution of our society made us second class citizens. We spoke about our support for religious freedom in Canada. We spoke about our determination to carry out this debate with both respect and directness.

This issue is more than just the consideration of civil marriage. It is actually about the full citizenship of gay and lesbian people, our full citizenship. Gay and lesbian people cannot be considered full citizens if key institutions of our society are considered out of bounds to us. We cannot be considered full citizens if civil marriage, one of those central institutions, is seen to be outside our experience and our reach.

Separate or new institutions or legal arrangements will not meet the test of the value of our citizenship. Civil union applied only to gay and lesbian couples is not an answer because separate is not equal. Separate water fountains, separate sections on the bus, separate beaches, none of these are acceptable in societies that value the full equality of their people. I and my party believe the same is true of civil marriage.

This matter is not one that limits religious freedom. The bill takes great pain to be clear on that subject. We in the NDP support the protection of religious freedom. I personally, as an active member of the United Church of Canada, strongly support religious freedom. No mosque, no temple, no church, no synagogue and no clergy person should be forced to perform a marriage of a gay or lesbian couple if that act conflicts with their belief, practice or theology.

Religious organizations must make decisions about religious marriage. However, religious organizations that choose to solemnize the marriage of gay and lesbian couples should also be able to do so in exactly the same way they do for heterosexual couples. Whether that means marrying a couple who has obtained a marriage licence or being able to officially register the marriage of a couple for whom banns have been read, those religious organizations should have that ability guaranteed as part of our commitment to religious freedom.

The Metropolitan Community Church fully supports the marriage of gay and lesbian couples and has worked hard to realize this change. The Unitarian Church and the United Church of Canada have been leaders toward this change, as has the Canadian Coalition of Liberal Rabbis for Same-Sex Marriage. Ultimately this legislation is about state-defined civil marriage, not religious marriage.

Alex Munter, a spokesperson for Canadians for Equal Marriage, had high praise for Bill C-38. He said that the bill reflected the genius of Canada in the way in which it supported the full equality of gay and lesbian couples and at the same time provided for the protection of religious freedom.

I agree with Mr. Munter. The bill is indeed very Canadian. It provides for a difference of opinion, while both protecting and expanding basic rights important to Canadians.

Let me pay tribute to the efforts of Canadians for Equal Marriage and Egale Canada for their tireless work advocating for marriage rights for Canadians.

Not all gay and lesbian Canadians aspire to be married. Not all gay and lesbian couples in Canada will choose marriage. Some in our community have serious and important questions about the institution of marriage, and not all of our marriages will succeed. That is no different than the situation for heterosexual couples and straight people in Canada. In the same way that heterosexual couples have a choice to be married or not, I believe that gay and lesbian couples must have that same choice.

I know this issue is a difficult one for many members of Parliament. I know there are members who have been told that they are not welcome in their faith communities because of the position they have taken. I know all members have been flooded with letters of support and opposition to this legislation. I am well aware of the emotional toll that this debate is having.

As a gay man I can assure this House that gay and lesbian Canadians know all too well the risks associated with standing up for our full human rights. We know that we often lose friends, family connections, our welcome in faith communities and our jobs. We sometimes even experience intimidation and violence when we stand for our full inclusion in the community.

Let me assure my colleagues that there are joys associated with that risk too. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

I know that many of my constituents have strong feelings about this legislation. I have heard from thousands of people, many from Burnaby—Douglas, many from across Canada. My support for marriage will come as no surprise to my constituents. They know that I worked with my predecessor Svend Robinson over many years, supporting his early initiatives on this issue. People in Burnaby--Douglas respected Svend's position, even if they disagreed. He was always clear with them and accountable for his actions.

For my part, I too have been very clear about my stand. It came up regularly during last June's election campaign, in public meetings, in media interviews and on the doorstep. I never shied away from indicating that I would be a strong supporter and advocate for gay and lesbian marriage.

I was not alone in that position among candidates in my riding. In fact, a very strong majority of voters in my riding cast their ballots for candidates who were committed to supporting this kind of legislation.

I know not everyone in Burnaby--Douglas supports this bill. I respect their position. I appreciate hearing from them about their concern. However, when the vote comes I will be voting in support, ensuring that gay and lesbian couples can be married in Canada.

I also want to speak about my party's position on this issue. The New Democratic Party of Canada has been on the record for many years as supporting gay and lesbian marriage. It has been part of our election platform. In fact, the party policy committed the NDP to changing the law to include gay and lesbian couples in marriage in our first term should we form government.

The policy went further. After democratic debate at a party convention, delegates voted for a motion that directed caucus to support this change as a fundamental issue of human rights.

I do not know of any of our party's policies where delegates actually called caucus members to a particular course of action. It tells Canadians of our party's commitment. I am proud that we in the NDP will perhaps have the strongest overall commitment to this change of any caucus represented here in the House.

There are disappointments for me associated with this debate. I am disappointed that it has taken the government so long to get this on the agenda of the House, forcing couples at great personal expense and risk to take their concerns to the courts. I think that the government tried to keep this matter off the agenda of the last election by its reference to the Supreme Court. I think that was just a delaying tactic.

I am disappointed too that if it was up to the Liberal and Conservative Parties this legislation would fail. This is particularly troubling, given the Prime Minister's stirring defence of the charter and human rights in Canada in the last days of the election campaign. The Prime Minister wrapped himself in the charter and pledged to defend those rights. Today we see the Liberal caucus divided on this matter.

Without the NDP and the strong support of the Bloc Québécois, the legislation would not have a hope.

I hope the Prime Minister appreciates that it is the commitment of these two opposition parties to the charter, to human rights, to the full equality of gays and lesbians that will ensure the legislation passes.

I am also disappointed in the position taken by the Conservative Party. Perhaps I should not be surprised given that party's consistent history of failing to support initiatives that address the equality of gay and lesbian Canadians.

However, the way in which the Conservatives have made their argument has been particularly problematic. We first heard how this legislation presented a slippery slope that would lead to polygamy, a notion roundly criticized in many quarters and that ignores the very real problems associated with polygamy that is practised in Canada today. Then it was proposed that there could in fact be an opposite sex definition of marriage that would meet constitutional requirements without using the notwithstanding clause, a position that was denounced by over 130 legal and constitutional experts.

We then heard from the Conservatives that Canada's ethnic communities would not stand for including gays and lesbians in the institution of marriage, a suggestion that offended many in those communities and belied the political, social and religious diversity of ethnic communities in Canada.

And more recently, a longtime Conservative member of Parliament asserted that gay and lesbian Canadians were not discriminated against by the current definition of marriage because we were in fact free to marry a person of the opposite sex. There could be no position that denies the reality of our lives as gay and lesbian people more than that. It fundamentally denies the reality of our love, our commitments, our sexuality, our lives. It makes our love, our relationships invisible. I hope this is not a view that is widely shared in that party.

I have not heard effective reasons from the Conservatives yet, but I am willing to listen carefully to the debate in the coming days.

This legislation will be good for Canada. Because it recognizes the full equality of gay and lesbian couples, it will make a difference. Because it honours the institution of marriage by including couples who are dedicated to the ideals and responsibilities of that institution who do not take it for granted, who are willing to fight to be subject to its traditions and obligations, it will make a difference. Because it will bring joy to the very being of many people who will be able to make a commitment that they only dreamed might be possible or who have sought the opportunity to support gay and lesbian family members and friends find the important affirmation of their relationship, it will make a difference. Because it will say to people around the world that Canada honours and respects its gay and lesbian citizens and is prepared to bring them into full citizenship, leading not following the movement toward equality for gays and lesbians everywhere, it will make a difference.

Relationships are complicated. They are mysterious. They give meaning to our lives. For me, theologian Isobel Carter Heyward offers an excellent description of loving relationship when she says:

To say I love you is to say that you are not mine, but rather your own.To love you is to advocate your rights, your space, your self, and to struggle with you, rather than against you, in your learning to claim your power in the world.To love you is to make love to you, and with you, whether in an exchange of glances heavy with existence, in the passing of a peace we mean, in our common work or play, in our struggle for social justice, or in the ecstasy and tenderness of intimate embrace which we believe is just and right for us--and for others in the world.To love you is to be pushed by a power/god both terrifying and comforting, to touch and be touched by you. To love you is to sing with you, cry with you, pray with you, and act with you to re-create the world.

When it comes down to it, there is no difference in the love experienced by gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples. Love is love is love.

The bill is a cause for celebration. Soon, when it finally passes, we will be able to celebrate the love and commitment of all Canadian couples. The circle of love, of responsibility, of commitment, of marriage will be wider.

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5:25 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member of the NDP for his most interesting and moving speech. I congratulate him on his great courage.

I would also like to ask him a question, one that keeps cropping up. Certain groups that are not necessarily familiar with the bill in its entirety fear that churches will be forced to marry same sex couples. Can the hon. member explain the Supreme Court's position on this?

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5:30 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, as this debate has gone on, I have seen very few people in the corner of those who support gay and lesbian marriage who have had any concern, or any qualm or any intention of challenging a church's right to its own decision making process, its own beliefs and its own theology around the question of gay and lesbian marriage. That is just not an issue in those quarters.

The bill goes out of its way to be very clear that religious freedom is protected in Canada. This is something that we on this side of the House, and I know the member's party does as well, strongly support.

There is no intent here to force religious organizations of any kind to perform a service for gay and lesbian couples against their will, their belief and their theology. That has been very clear. It has been a fundamental part of the debate. It has been a fundamental part of what gay and lesbian people have been saying about the legislation. I just do not think there is any question about it, and the bill takes pains to make that very clear.

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5:30 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member from the NDP for an eloquent speech.

I would like to state for the record that the issue is not that we do not recognize the loving relationship between a number of members of our society. That is not the issue.

I have spoken to a number of people on both sides of the House who have differing opinions with respect to this and it comes down to the word marriage. The rights of those who have come to know this word to mean one thing have to be protected. I can only hope that in time a word will come to mean as much to same sex couples as the word marriage has come to mean to heterosexual couples.

Unless it has been changed recently, the NDP website expresses that it supports all forms of marriage. Rather than choose the word both forms of marriage, it decidedly chose the words all forms. Could the member define for the House why the NDP chose the word all rather than both?

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5:30 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, as far as I am concerned there is only one form of marriage in Canada and that is the commitment that we have been talking about here this afternoon. Gay and lesbian people do not have a different notion of marriage. They do not have a different understanding of marriage. They do not have a different ideal around marriage. Marriage is marriage is marriage.

The people who challenged the courts to be included in marriage did so because they believe in that institution and share its values. They support the tradition of marriage. There is no differing idea of marriage. We only need one institution of marriage in this country. Gay and lesbian people, who are seeking to be included in that, support that institution fully and unequivocally.

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5:30 p.m.


Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I spent 32 years in the field of education, mostly at the secondary and junior high school level. During those years I had some experience dealing with mandated programs that came into play with regard to sex education and various things. This became quite an issue with a number of parents who felt that certain subjects should be left in the home, in the church, and not in the educational system. It was not long before those things were pretty well mandated across the country and have since become an intricate part of the educational system, much to the dismay of many.

As a consequence of that, private schools began cropping up because they did not want the mandated programs offered by the public system. I know for certain that lineups to get into private schools have grown since the introduction of this legislation because of the fear of what may happen in the public system as a result of the bill.

I wonder if the member could tell me what he anticipates might happen to the educational system at the secondary or junior high level, or even at the earlier levels if Bill C-38 is passed.

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5:35 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I hope every educational institution in this country, whether private or public, has a discussion about this legislation. I hope they have discussions about marriage and the meaning of marriage. I hope they have discussions about the place of gay and lesbian people in our society. I hope they have discussions about the kind of loving commitments Canadians make to each other, whether they are heterosexual or gay or lesbian. That would be a fine thing for this country. I have no fear of those kind of discussions.

The member raised the situation of people perhaps sending their children to a school with a more controlled curriculum or where some issues might not come up as often. I grew up in a school system that did not talk about issues of sexuality very well. As a young gay man I was very isolated. I hope all our institutions will take pains to ensure that young gay and lesbian people are heard. I hope they are not made invisible. I hope they are protected from bigotry and prejudice. I hope they are supported through their years of discovering their sexuality whether that is in a public school, a private school or whatever.

Whatever we can do to foster that kind of discussion and that kind of acceptance will be a good thing.

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5:35 p.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to thank the hon. member for his honesty and candour in openly admitting during a debate in this House that he is gay. I would like to ask him a question on family values. I am convinced that if the hon. member can rise in this House today, it is because he was born of a family, of a father and a mother.

Will society evolve? Earlier, we talked about centuries. In 100 years, will we have to vote in this House to allow a mother to marry her son, a father to marry his daughter, a daughter to marry her brother?

I would like the hon. member to reflect on this and to tell us how, in the case of a married gay couple, he thinks family values can develop.

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5:35 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, anyone who has had the experience of getting to know a gay or lesbian couple or gay or lesbian family would know the obvious answer to that question.

The values that are expressed in our relationships are no different than the values expressed in the relationships of heterosexual couples. The values that our children learn in our families are no different than the values that the children learn in the families headed by heterosexual couples. Anyone who has had any experience of that will understand that is true.

The question in some ways is unfortunate because it denies the reality of the commitments that we make to each other, of the love that we express, and of the care we have for our children and their upbringing.

I was raised in a family with heterosexual parents and I learned values from my parents and from their parents, my grandparents. Those are the values that I take forward into my life as an adult. Those are the values that I take into my relationship with my partner. I think it is very consistent. The couples who are bringing forward the question of marriage are people who strongly share the values of marriage as they have been raised with it in this society.

This is not a challenge to the meaning of marriage, to the values of marriage, to the obligations of marriage, or to the responsibilities of marriage. In this society where, in many ways, marriage is under threat from marriage breakdown and that kind of thing and not because it is gay and lesbian people whose marriages are breaking down. These are people who are willing to champion that institution and say that it is an institution that still has value, promise and possibility. They are the ones who are taking it into the future and who are strengthening marriage as we speak today.