Madam Speaker, I will be objecting to the bill and I have four preliminary objections: first, to the title; second, to the preamble; third, to the consequential amendments; and fourth, to the so-called religious protection.
First, the title of the bill is an attempt to make a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage and, as we know, is a distinction without a difference. The bill would profoundly change the meaning of marriage in society. It is simply an attempt to try and sugar-coat the bill a little bit.
Second, the preamble is equally dubious. It does not have the force of law and does not appear in any of the amended statutes. It will not be there for contextualization or interpretation by judges. It, too, is an attempt to sugar-coat the bill. Its shelf life diminishes precipitously with the passage of the bill.
Third, the so-called protection for religious officials is equally, in my view, worthless. There is not a scintilla of doubt that religious institutions and their officials would be the next line of attack. It has already happened. Members are no doubt aware of the Knights of Columbus case in Vancouver. Knowingly, or unknowingly, a homosexual couple tried to use a Catholic facility for a wedding but were denied the use of the facility. They instituted a lawsuit. It does stretch credulity to think that this was just happenstance. My guess is that they will succeed because the protections are only afforded to religious officials.
The clause for protecting religious officials, even if it passes, cannot stand because it implies that religious officials are bigots. A state cannot protect bigots from bigotry. If marriage is transformed, any official who, for religious reasons, defines marriage as being composed of two people of the opposite gender will be considered by society to be a bigot. However, because the state is all gracious and all knowing, it will allow these officials to pursue their faulty thinking and extend to them a fig leaf of legal protection.
Does anyone believe that this protection granted by the federal government in an area in which it has no jurisdiction, namely the solemnization of marriage, is worth anything at all?
It would certainly be better for the government to come clean and say, just as did the Supreme Court of Canada, that religious officials will need to rely on the charter for their protection.
Fourth, I have problems with the amendments that would need to be made to the existing law if the bill were to pass. It is like a massive game of dominoes.
Perhaps the most startling consequential amendment is the removal of the phrase “natural parent” from all statutes and replacing it with the phrase “legally recognized at law”. This might not mean a great deal to some but once the bill passes the phrase “natural parent”, meaning connection through blood, DNA or biology, will be replaced by the expression “legally recognized at law” which, in effect, means anything a court chooses it to mean.
In summary, I believe the title and the preamble are sugar-coating and of no legal force and effect. Were I a religious official or a religious institution, I would be bracing for an onslaught of legal battering.
Finally, the most devastating of all the changes are the consequential amendments that would delink a child from its biological heritage.
At the crux of the debate, however, is the question of whether we ought to deconstruct one of the most critical relational institutions in our society. Fundamental to the debate is a meaningful look at the role marriage plays in our society and how changing one of the fundamental elements of this social institution will affect the functioning of the institution. The question that must be asked is whether gender is a vital component of marriage and by removing the gender component we would be creating a different type of relationship with different underlying assumptions.
To argue for redefining marriage, one must first believe that the gender component is irrelevant. If gender is irrelevant, marriage, by extension, is an inherently couple centric love institution that exists to serve the intimacy needs of adults. Many people have bought into this definition. It arises out of a rights based analysis by advocacy groups and it is how the marriage debate began. These advocacy groups, whose position the government initially opposed and now fully supports, convinced certain Canadian judges that marriage is nothing more than a love institution between two people.
In doing so, they argued that the criterion of marriage was only that which involved two people who love each other and that there was no reason these people must be of opposite gender. This is what is called a circular argument. A McGill University professor, Doug Farrow, pointed out in a recent booklet entitled “Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada's New Social Experiment”, “We need to notice that the main rights argument amounts to a nice piece of subterfuge. Its conclusion is that marriage must be redefined. This distracts us from the fact that marriage has already been redefined in the argument's first move. That is, a new category, “the close adult personal relationship”, has been invented to provide a framework for our understanding of marriage. Once this framework is accepted, it follows that homosexual unions can be marriage-like and in that case, should qualify as marriage”.
The courts initially resisted this line of argument for the redefinition of marriage on solid, historical, religious and cultural grounds. Ultimately, however, once having bought the conclusion that marriage is just two people engaged in a conjugal relationship, their reasons for resisting the argument collapsed. This is what is called a circular argument. We start with a premise that requires a redefined definition of marriage and, to no one's great surprise, we come to the conclusion that marriage must be redefined.
Margaret Somerville, the noted secular medical and legal ethicist, argues that the Government of Canada is proposing to change an inherent feature of a social institution. I would say that it is a critical feature. I would say it is a sine qua non, that which cannot exist without it: the opposite gender requirement. Doing so, Somerville argues, will have a direct impact on the life of the social institution, radically re-engineering marriage and directly affecting the work it does in society.
What will the implications of the engineering project be then for marriage? I will give three suggestions.
First, marriage will no longer act as a unique forum for interplay between men and women in which the gender gap is bridged to create stable bonds between men and women. Marriage is easily the best way in which men relate to women and is easily the best way in which women relate to men.
Second, marriage will cease to provide a social home for the powerful procreative ecology of this bond. Marriage is easily the best way in which children relate to their parents.
Third, marriage will no longer be a unique forum for creating a stable community among children and their moms and dads and the larger society. Marriage is currently the one institution that attempts to enshrine the basic birthright of children to know that they are connected to their mothers and fathers as indicated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This new law of marriage formally rejects these pivotal elements as part of the objective core of marriage.
The Netherlands has had same sex marriage for the last five years. It should be noted that in the first three years of that bill, marriage declined among heterosexuals by 10% each and every year, and in the last year of 2004 it declined between 3% and 4%. There seem to be no other factors to explain this sudden drop in heterosexual attachment to the institution of marriage. Marriage is now dead in Denmark and 61% of children are born outside of marriage.
Quebec has had a form of civil union for a number of years now. Fewer and fewer heterosexuals are marrying. Fifty-eight per cent of children in that province are now born outside of marriage. All evidence suggests that children born outside of marriage have poor socio-economic outcomes and require far greater intervention by the state to compensate for parenting shortfalls. The birth rate in Quebec is demographically not sustainable and its population is contracting as in the Scandinavian countries. Absent in immigration, the contraction would be catastrophic: few marriages, fewer children; fewer children, fewer marriages.
It is my view that when a government and the courts embark on a social experiment of this magnitude, where preliminary evidence suggests accelerated heterosexual detachment from the fundamental institution of society, then the courts and governments have not served us well. Anything that destabilizes the institution, be it minor changes such as the change to the Divorce Act, creates more children born outside of the institution and accelerates heterosexual detachment from marriage.
I have outlined some of my objections: the redefining of a natural parent; the absence of meaningful democratic consultation; the false premise of the bill; and the dismissal as irrelevant all the historical, cultural and religious overlay to the institution. However my most serious objection is that this is not a Liberal solution, not a big L or a little l Liberal solution. This is a winner takes all approach so framed by the courts and adapted by the government is not respectful of diversity, pluralism or tolerance.
We live in one of the most culturally diverse nations on earth. We preach endless platitudes of respect for inclusiveness, tolerance, diversity and pluralism. The bill ignores the diversity of culture and ideas. It fails to include those who hold profoundly different views. It mocks pluralism by taking the most divisive of all solutions. It fails to explore the alternatives to the legitimate aspirations of gays and lesbians to have their relationships recognized and valued.
The bill is a divisive bill that would give overt preference to a specious rights analysis above all others. Ultimately it fails the test of what makes Canada great: liberal respect and accommodation for diversity of views and aspirations.