House of Commons Hansard #74 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was society.


Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House today to give my unequivocal support for the civil marriage act. I am glad to have the opportunity to say, without qualification, that I strongly support the bill and believe in the legislation to extend the legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes to same sex couples while respecting religious freedom.

I am proud to take this position for a number of reasons. I want to briefly describe my background and how I came to the position of strong support for recognition of same sex marriages. I want to start, as other speakers have, by talking a bit about my own marital situation.

I have been happily married to the same man for what will be 34 years this summer. Some people may wonder how this could be possible given the kind of person I am, so busy and involved in my job and emotionally engaged all the time. How could anybody live with someone like me for that long? It is a fact. It has happened. My husband, Ron, and I have two children. Like all relationships, we struggle with our compatibility and the difficult issues that all of us deal with on a day to day basis.

I bring that perspective to the debate with a question. Since marriage has meant so much to me all of my life, why is it not possible for it to be the same for gays or lesbians in society today? How can I be so proud of the institution of marriage and talk about its benefits and then turn around and deny that right to those who have long-standing, committed relationships? How can I not ensure the same benefit is present for my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas? He has not been in a relationship as long as mine of 34 years, but he has had a relationship for 24 years with his partner. Why can he not enjoy the benefits of marriage and show the world what his relationship means?

That is one aspect of my background which I bring to the debate.

The second is that I come to this debate as a practising Christian, as a long-standing member and activist in my own church, the United Church of Canada, a church I have been a member of all my life, first in the village I grew up in, the Conestoga United Church, and now in Winnipeg at the Kildonan United Church. I say that because so often in this debate those of us who support same sex marriage are accused of being without principles, morals or religious underpinnings.

It is important to put on record just how much this is a part of all of us who are practising Christians or who are religious and have a faith, whatever denomination.

In my case, the United Church has been absolutely consistent over the years with its perspective and vigilance in the pursuit of justice and equality. The message of the United Church is the message I bring to the House today. The message of the Christian church at its best has always been a message of inclusive love, to love others as we love ourselves. The ministry of Jesus powerfully demonstrated that this inclusive love of God challenged cultural norms and questioned the limits of who was truly faithful. As my church has said, I believe a vote for same sex marriage would express what Christian love demands for our times.

Like my own church, I am not willing to support the use of Holy Scripture in any argument against same sex marriage. I suggest those who are so using these verses are abusing its authority in the same way the Holy Scripture has been abused to justify slavery, resist equal rights for women and to purport to justify the divine right of kings against the will of elected Parliaments.

I bring to the debate a strong faith and belief in the church. I also bring to the debate a lifelong involvement in the fight for equal rights. This is not a last minute decision. This has been a part of who I am from the day I chose to get involved in political life in Canada. That goes back to over 20 years ago when we were dealing with a similar issue in the Manitoba legislature in 1987.

At that time, when I was the Manitoba New Democratic Party representative for the constituency of St. Johns in Winnipeg and a minister of the crown, serving as the minister for culture, heritage, recreation, status of women and multiculturalism, we debated the Manitoba human rights legislation. I can remember to this day, the spring of 1987, standing up in the Manitoba legislature and making the same kind of speech that I am making today. I can remember hearing the same arguments, the same opposition, the same cries that we were bringing society down to its knees and that we were leading toward the destruction of the basic moral fabric of our society today.

At that time, we were debating the inclusion of sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause of the Manitoba human rights legislation. Exactly the same arguments I am hearing today, I heard 20 years ago. I heard the same fearmongering, the same threats and the same personal attacks.

The New Democratic Party government persisted despite the opposition of the Conservatives in Manitoba. We persisted despite huge outcries from well organized campaigns. Interestingly, today it is really a non-issue. From what I hear from the Conservatives, they accept non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. They say that they accept the inclusion of sexual orientation in the charter, but they will not take it the next step.

I am here to say we did that. We proved to society that it did not bring an end to everything that was good about our society. We strengthened society by ensuring that our notion of equality was extended to all peoples. Today we are here, a very proud moment in our history, taking one more step of ensuring that we permit and encourage those in same sex relationships, if they so choose, to express that in the institution of marriage. How can we resist that cry, that call, that fundamental issue of justice and equality?

I am here today to simply say this is something we must do from the point of view of recognition of marriage as a union of two people committed to one another, wanting to be in a loving relationship, to share their lives. That is what they are saying. How can we say no to that?

We are also here because we know that the overriding issue is equality. It is not how we in our individual social traditions view marriage. This is an important battle for everyone facing less than equal status in our society today. It is an important battle for minorities of whatever type. We are all in some respect in a minority position.

The rock, the foundation of our justice system has been our legal right to be treated equally. It has taken us a long time to approach that ideal. This issue is yet one more step toward making that ideal a reality. That national commitment to equality across all boundaries and divisions in our society is the core of the tolerance and social peace that makes Canada the envy of the world. It cannot be compromised.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bramalea—Gore—Malton Ontario


Gurbax Malhi LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, the majority of Canadians of all faiths are united against the concept of same sex marriage. I have received thousands of letters, phone calls, e-mails and visits from Canadians opposed to same sex marriage. My mailbox is overflowing with mail from Canadians who are opposed to same sex marriage.

The same sex marriage debate is not divided along purely generational lines, with seniors opposed and youth in favour. I recently received a large thank you message signed by dozens of young people ranging from 10 to 20 years of age. All of them thanked me for my stand on this issue. They included Neil, age 12; Heather, age 16; Dave, age 15; Tammy, age 20; Michelle, age 24; Tanya, age 13; and Ryan, age 12.

Most major religions in Canada believe that marriage is the relationship of a man and a woman. This has been central to the teachings of these religions since their origins and reflects human history.

The Interfaith Coalition on Marriage and the Family includes Roman Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs. Members include the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Islamic Society of North America, the B.C. Muslim Association, the B.C. Council of Sikhs, the Ontario Council of Sikhs, the Ontario Gurdwara Committee, and many other organizations across Canada.

The Association for Marriage and the Family in Ontario is a coalition of concerned pro-family organizations including Focus on the Family (Canada) Association, the Canada Family Action Coalition, and REAL Women of Canada. A majority of the main religions in Canada are against changing the definition of marriage.

Same sex marriage is not considered as a human right according to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Just because differences exist in society, it does not mean that inequality and discrimination exist. Consider for example, that a woman is not entitled to use the men's washroom. This is not a case of her being discriminated against. It is because she does not meet the criterion of someone to whom the washroom is assigned. Likewise, if a same sex couple is not entitled to marry, it is not that those individuals are being discriminated against or that their equal rights are being violated. It is that they do not meet the criterion of a couple to whom that institution is assigned.

The proposed redefinition of marriage clashes with the faith and practice of many Canadians. It also has enormous civil and social implications for everyone. The Asian businessmen and professionals association of Canada recently argued against equating same sex unions with marriage. As Canadians they see the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for mutual support and for procreation of children. They see it as essential to the well-being of society.

The natural law of marriage, the good of the couple and the procreation and education of children is present in men and women. It stands as the natural dimension of the union.

It is biologically obvious that only a male and female of the species are able to form what other animals call a breeding pair and what we call marriage. Such male-female pair bondings are a biological fact of life. They are not a social construct which can be shaped according to the fashion of the day. That is because no other social task can compare with the creation and nurturing of the next generation.

Males and females complement each other. Children need the warmth and comfort of the mother and the playful rough and tumble as well as the protection of the father. The law of the land should not deny children the possibility of having both a mother and a father. The great circle of life is male and female.

This even applies to the world of man-made objects. A table is not complete without a chair. A picture needs the support of a frame. Opposites come together and complete the circle of life. We need a key to open a door lock. Wheels are needed to drive a car. Likewise, men and women need each other to complete the circle of life. Marriage is an expression of natural and divine law.

Consider the contribution made to our society by marriage and the typical family. Marriage as the union of a man and a woman has been known and celebrated in all civilizations in recorded history. People then and now need mutual support in the form of the family for the procreation of the species.

Major religions of the world have made marriage a central concern. For most religions, marriage has three essential aspects: the mutual care of the couple; the openness to procreation; and the special grace granted by the ceremony of marriage. All three aspects, mutual support, openness to procreation and public commitment, are essential to a full definition of marriage.

Canadians support the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. This definition merely reflects the reality of what has existed in society for 6,000 years.

There is ample evidence that marriage results in durable and lasting relationships in the majority of cases. It is also the most stable setting for the rearing of children. It provides role models for both sexes as well as economic and social security.

Is it possible to change the practice and mindset of 6,000 years by simply changing the legal definition of a word? As legislators we need to be very prudent. Many religious organizations have expressed anger over the government's position on same sex marriage.

I would simply ask that we preserve the current definition of marriage since it is wholesome for the common good, in keeping with the natural law and in conformity with God's design for the world.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am deeply aware of both the privilege and the responsibility that I have as the representative of the diverse communities and residents that compose the riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook.

All my fellow members of Parliament and I have a duty to reflect the values and concerns of our constituents. I will be voting against this legislation that would change the definition of marriage, confident that I am faithfully taking the direction that has been so clearly expressed by the people of Niagara West—Glanbrook.

More than any other item on the government's agenda, which has been incredibly lacking when it comes to effectively responding to the real concerns of Canadians, the issue of same sex marriage has evoked an outpouring of commentary.

Sometimes I wonder if the real reason the Liberal government is focusing so much energy on same sex marriage is to detract media and public attention from the fact that it has no vision, no focus and no direction for the future. That is one of the frequent comments I have been hearing from the residents of Niagara West—Glanbrook.

It certainly is odd that a government that dithers on practically every decision is so determined on changing the definition of marriage. The fact that the government has embraced this legislation as the centrepiece of the Prime Minister's legacy shows how out of touch the government has really become.

The same sex marriage bill has inspired tremendous debate and consideration throughout all segments of my community. I received feedback from more than 10,000 individuals from my constituency and thousands more from coast to coast on the definition of marriage. Even as I speak, I know my office staff are opening more letters and e-mails and answering more phone calls opposing the same sex marriage issue. Overwhelmingly, the residents of the communities of Niagara West—Glanbrook have indicated support for maintaining the current definition of marriage.

I agree with the majority of public views I have received that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. During the election campaign, I promised I would vote in support of this definition. Promise made, promise kept. I will respect my constituents' wishes.

I solicited the views of my constituents by asking them in a newsletter what they thought. I would like to share that response with members of Parliament. Almost 90% are against changing the meaning of marriage; 9% support changing it, and the remainder have no opinion.

Contrary to the claims of the Prime Minister with regard to anyone who does not support this legislation, the residents of my riding are in fact Canadian. They do believe in Canadian values. They believe in democracy and they believe in the protection of individual rights and freedoms. They are Canadians who expect to have their voices heard in Parliament.

I remind all members that their constituents similarly want to have their voices heard, but is the governing party listening? Are individual Liberal MPs representing their constituents?

The truth is that when it comes to democratic values, the Liberal Party is intolerant of any position that does not agree with its position. The evidence is that cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries in the government have been clearly told that they must vote to change the meaning of marriage if they want to keep their job. It does not matter if their constituents disagree with their vote. They have no voice. Only the Prime Minister's voice matters. The collective will of Parliament is being ignored because of the Prime Minister's smug confidence that he knows best.

In 1999 the Parliament of Canada passed a motion in support of the traditional definition of marriage. The vote was 216 in favour and 55 opposed. A clear majority of members of Parliament, responsible and accountable to Canadians who elected them as MPs across Canada, had their say and now it is being ignored.

The commitments made by individual Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers again have also become worthless. The former Liberal minister of justice and current Deputy Prime Minister said, “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”. I guess the Deputy Prime Minister wants to keep her fancy car and driver.

Before he became a cabinet minister, the government House leader was firm in his principles and beliefs. To quote from a letter he wrote in February 2001: “I strongly concur with your view that the sanctity of marriage must be upheld in Canadian society”. He explained that he voted in support of the motion to preserve the definition of marriage and said that he would continue to do so. Perhaps he forgot to add, “Until I get a cabinet appointment and my marching orders from the Prime Minister”.

I urge these ministers, along with other Liberal members who are uncomfortable with the Prime Minister muzzling their constituents, to break rank and to represent their constituents, not their party leader and Prime Minister.

This past weekend CTV had a poll that indicated some of the least desirable or least trustworthy professions, careers and jobs. It is no wonder that politicians were at the end of the list as not being well respected, along with car salesmen.

It is insulting to see the Prime Minister wrap himself in the Canadian flag claiming that marriage must be changed and attack any opponents as trampling on human rights. The Prime Minister's arguments are weak and cannot be trusted. The Prime Minister talked about rights and freedoms of Canadians, yet is the first to attack individuals who support the traditional definition of marriage as being religious zealots. The proposed legislation opens up a Pandora's box of problems, particularly in the areas of religious freedom.

Will churches be allowed to teach their beliefs related to marriage? Will religious leaders be forced to set aside their beliefs or even face persecution if they refuse to perform same sex marriages? Will religious schools be able to hire staff who respect and follow their doctrines and practices? Will the charitable status of religious organizations be threatened? Will marriage commissioners be penalized or lose their job if they refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance to their religious belief?

Despite the assurances of the Prime Minister, the legislation contains no such protection. A few words in the preamble, not the actual text of the legislation, do not carry the legal weight to offer any kind of guarantee. There are simple ways to ensure that religious freedoms are protected. Do not change the definition of marriage.

The clear message I have heard from my constituents is that they do not want this fundamental institution changed. They overwhelmingly believe that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. The Prime Minister has suggested that anyone opposed to his scheme of redefining marriage is somehow going against Canadian values of fairness and equality. I want to be clear that the constituents of my riding are not being discriminatory. Canadians have had the good sense to know that maintaining the traditional definition of marriage is not contrary to same sex couples also having rights to equality within our society.

The law can and should continue to recognize the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Canadians belong to a long tradition--

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

On a point of order, the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin.

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11:05 a.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, there does not appear to be a quorum in the House.

And the count having been taken:

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11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook has two minutes left.

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11:10 a.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians belong to a long tradition of democracy, of deciding on core values that are most important to them and creating laws to reflect those values. If an important social institution that affects every Canadian regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious background is to be changed, it must only be changed according to the collective will and wisdom of all Canadians.

The Prime Minister and the Liberal Party did not include changing the definition of marriage as a plank in their campaign platform during the election. There has been no broad consultation with Canadians. The cabinet is not free to vote according to their constituents' wishes. The Prime Minister knows that this legislation does not reflect Canadian principles. Instead of listening to communities across this country, the Liberal government is declaring that Canadians cannot be trusted to do what is right.

When I vote against this unnecessary and unwanted legislation, I will be voting in support of two core beliefs that society is built upon. The first principle is that marriage is the unique relationship between a man and a woman. The other principle is that Canadians expect their elected officials to represent them with openness and accountability.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec


Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Canada—U.S.)

Mr. Speaker, some 31 years ago I sat down with my father to inform him that I had made a decision to be married. I had actually proposed to my fiancé, who became my husband. My father asked me if I had thought seriously about it, and I asked him why? My father said to me, “The young man you want to marry is white. Have you thought about the consequences of an interracial marriage in this day and age?” I am talking about the end of 1973.

I said it was not a problem. There was not really any discrimination against interracial couples, but it started me thinking. It became a defining moment in my life because my parents were an interracial couple. My mother, who was deceased at that time, was white. She was French Canadian from Manitoba, the daughter of a Belgian woman who had come to Canada with her family under the Homestead Act and a francophone Manitoban whose original roots were in Quebec.

It amazed me that my father, who was an African-American born in Alabama, raised under Jim Crow laws, emigrated to Canada in the mid 1940s when Jim Crow laws--

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, it is the government's responsibility to have quorum in the House of Commons. There are not enough members in the House right now to conduct business properly. Can this be addressed and could the members be called in, please?

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Before we call the members in, we will have a mathematical verification of the quorum.

And the count having been taken:

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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11:15 a.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is regrettable that the members of the Conservative Party are not interested in hearing any points of view that might differ from their own on Bill C-38. I am, however, pleased that a few Liberals and Bloc members are.

I was at the point of talking about how my parents were an interracial couple. My father asked me whether I had thought carefully and deeply about the fact of wanting to marry a white man. That brought home to me the kind of discrimination that my parents would have faced through their years of marriage until my mother's death.

It also brought home to me the fact there was discrimination and discrimination not just based on an individual's race, but that the discrimination could be against a couple either because they did not share religious background or because they did not share the same ethnic or racial origin, in some cases even because they did not share the same linguistic heritage.

It was the first time in my life, and I was 22 years old at the time, that I realized the kind of pain that my parents must have experienced as an interracial couple in Canada in the Montreal area throughout their years of courtship, then marriage and raising a family of eight children.

I married my husband. We will be celebrating 31 years of marriage this June. I must say that in the first years of our marriage we did in fact encounter some barriers because we were an interracial couple. It was quite astonishing that it happened in the area of rental property. I went to seek an apartment and informed the owner that I was married and that my husband was not available to come to look at it. That was not a problem, it was available, it was open. I was told to come back that evening with my husband and we could sign the lease. When I showed up with my white husband, all of a sudden the apartment was rented. They had no problem with renting to another couple of another race as long as both members of the couple were of the same race.

The reason why I bring this up is because I want to speak to Canadians who are listening. I am not even going to talk to the members in the House because I believe that all of the members of the House have done their homework and have made up their minds whether to support or not to support Bill C-38. However, there are many Canadians who are watching who may not have made up their minds. Some have, but some have not.

I want Canadians to think about the impact of discrimination and exclusion on the life of an individual and on the life of a couple. I want to read two letters before I go to my main speech. The first letter was published in the National Post on Tuesday, March 8. It states:

I wonder if those fighting so hard against same-sex marriage ever consider how much it means to gays. They don't know what it's like to be a teenager -- when the pressure to conform is so great -- and you experience the horror of realizing that you are gay. They can't understand what it's like to listen to your friends talk about how they hate queers and how they wish they were dead. You consider suicide, because you never want anyone to find out the truth about yourself; your shame is too great to bear.

And these people can't understand the hope that filled my soul when I first found out that Canada was considering allowing same-sex marriage. This legislation goes so far beyond marriage. It is a symbol. It represents the hopes and dreams of gays for a better world. Now that I'm 18, I can finally admit to myself that I am gay and no longer feel the shame that almost drew me suicide. At least now I have hope. What I can't understand is how people like Father de Souza, who are supposed to be in the business of giving people hope, are so determined to crush it.

Jason Reede, Toronto.

I have another letter which is addressed to me. It is from one of my constituents. It states:

Do you realize how much traditional marriage means to so many Canadians? Do you realize how much your decision affects our future? As a 17yr old Canadian Citizen, I urge you to support traditional marriage and listen to your conscience. VOTE NO!


Andrea Cowie.

As have many members of the House, I have received thousands of e-mails, faxes, letters, and telephone calls on both sides of issue. Yes, I am going to vote with my conscience and I am going to vote in favour of Bill C-38.

Even if this House has heard some speeches, arguments and heartfelt personal opinions, both for and against same sex marriage, we have very little factual information on this subject, and there is a reason for that.

Until very recently, our society marginalized same sex partners to such an extent that they often lived secret and almost invisible lives. That does not mean that they did not exist in Canada and elsewhere. Gays and lesbians, and same sex couples are an integral party of our history, but since they were not socially accepted, particularly from the Victorian era on, an atmosphere was created that was so hostile as to force many gays and lesbians to keep a very low profile.

Fortunately, society's attitudes toward gays and lesbians are changing, here in Canada especially. What is more, many Canadian gays and lesbians are of such strong character that they are prepared to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly. I would like to point out, in fact, that there is probably not a single member of this House who has not at some point been touched and impressed by the courage of a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour who has publicly acknowledged his or her sexual orientation publicly and the desire to be accepted as a person,and even as a member of a couple.

Not that long ago, being gay or lesbian was considered a shameful secret that had to be concealed from one's parents, relatives and friends. The fact that a son or daughter, brother or sister was gay had to be kept from family and friends.

The previous discrimination, some of which still exists today, of exclusion for gays and lesbians was not accepted. Happily, our society has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under this Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our courts have said that the traditional definition of marriage goes against our charter. It is the civil definition of marriage. We are not talking about religious marriage.

I would urge the members of the House to vote in favour of Bill C-38 and to let our gays and lesbians of Canada know that the institution of civil marriage is as open to them as it is to heterosexual Canadians.

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11:25 a.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak today to the matter off Bill C-38. I have made it clear in the course of debate that I personally support the traditional definition of marriage as being one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Heterosexual marriage has a unique social purpose that other relationships simply do not share. This statement is based on information that the justice committee heard last year, describing the functions of marriage as a heterosexual institution in various contexts, legal, economic, social anthropological and historical. To fundamentally alter the nature and the function of heterosexual marriage is something that is simply not supported by the evidence.

We can all agree that the societal shifts that will results from the statutory recognition of marriage between two people of the same sex are potentially enormous. Even the most strident proponents of same sex marriage have acknowledged as much. As McGill scholar, Dr. Daniel Cere said in his committee testimony:

The proposal to delete heterosexuality from the definition of marriage will change the internal meaning of this institution...will inevitably affect the identity of those who are shaped and sustained by this institution.

Dr. Cere cautioned the committee in proceeding with the legislation for several reasons, but as an academic, Dr. Cere made the following point:

It seems odd for jurists to be forging ahead with legal reconfigurations of marriage at such an early stage of debate. In the academy there has been little in the way of substantive response to this new body of argumentation and advocacy. Critical evaluation will eventually come, but perhaps too late as courts and legislatures are pushed to move.

Recent polling numbers from multiple national polling firms suggest that two-thirds of Canadians do not support redefining traditional marriage. The same Canadians however do, for the most part, support the legal recognition of same sex unions. This is precisely the reasonable compromise position that the Leader of the Opposition and the Conservative Party have taken. Yet the Prime Minister continues to attack our leader and our party, suggesting that somehow our refusal to endorse the government position is un-Canadian.

The current Liberal argument that this is purely a matter of human rights is, at best, one side of a legal opinion and, at worst, a cynical attempt to intimidate Canadians into supporting the government's legislation. For some to imply that those who believe otherwise are somehow not worthy of participating in the debate is an insult to Canadians and to Canadian values.

By refusing to appeal the lower court decisions on same sex marriage, the Liberal government irresponsibly set up the stage for the domino effect of the subsequent lower court rulings and the patchwork of laws currently in place across the country.

The strategy of the Prime Minister was clear. His strategy was simply to get the marriage question off the agenda during last year's election. However, his secondary strategy of asking the appointed judiciary to determine the future of marriage in Canada and therefore allow the Liberal Party to escape political responsibility for their policy choice in this respect was a decided failure.

Last December, the issue of marriage was unceremoniously dumped back into the lap of the government. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to be played for a political fool on this issue and refused to declare the traditional definition of marriage unconstitutional. While Liberal MPs continue to perpetuate the myth that the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of traditional marriage, it quite clearly has done no such thing.

Because the Supreme Court of Canada has not ruled that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional, there is no need to use the notwithstanding clause to override any such decision. Therefore, the Conservative Party intends to legislate, for the first time, the traditional definition of marriage and, at the same time, move to provide legal recognition for those in same sex unions. This will be done on the basis of a free vote, unlike the broken promise of the Prime Minister.

However, what if there is a majority of members in the House who mistakenly vote to change the definition of marriage? We in the Conservative Party are committed to bringing forward amendments to protect religious freedom insofar as it is possible from the perspective of federal legislation.

One issue that must be addressed is the fact that the Minister of Justice has simply recycled an unconstitutional provision to protect religious freedom. Let me be perfectly clear. There are absolutely no legal protections in the bill for freedom of religion or freedom of conscience. Whether this provision was intended to be simply declaratory or not, the one thing that the Supreme Court of Canada has been absolutely clear about in the reference is that the provision that the Liberals are putting into the bill is unconstitutional beyond the jurisdiction of the federal government to enact.

The Prime Minister continues to promise that he will invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect religious freedom for clergy. The notwithstanding clause cannot be used to give the federal government authority to legislate in provincial matters where it has no such authority. Again, another empty promise by the Prime Minister.

On three counts, the government has sought to mislead Canadian citizens. First, that the Supreme Court of Canada has in fact determined the definition of marriage when it has done no such thing. Second, it has also misled Canadians on the fact that the provision on religious freedom protects religious freedoms. Third, the Prime Minister has misled Canadians in saying that he will use the notwithstanding clause to protect religious freedoms when he in fact knows that it is beyond his jurisdiction to do that.

This is all in the context of the Deputy Prime Minister along with the Prime Minister, the former prime minister, the former minister of justice who initiated this legislation and the majority of the Liberal caucus all voted in 1999 in favour of taking all necessary steps to retain the traditional definition of marriage. Yet they did not even take the minimum steps necessary to appeal the decision. They have broken their word to Canadians in the past and there is no reason to believe on their past record that they will take any steps to protect religious freedom in this country.

As I have stated before on previous occasions, while there are individual exceptions, there has been a consistent pattern of equality rights prevailing over the rights of religious freedom and conscience, both in charter cases and cases brought before human rights tribunals. Furthermore, this proposed change is continuing to have a chilling effect on the exercise of religious freedom in the country.

Last month I received an e-mail from a person who conducts a marriage class as part of a church organization. This person was frightened to put the course on because if she advertised the course in the community as a course on marriage, given that the church's position was in support of the traditional definition of marriage, she feared the church would be brought in front of the Human Rights Commission if the course did not admit a homosexual couple. Given the current human rights decisions in this country, she is absolutely right in her concern.

Provided that the exercise of religious freedom remains within the four corners of the church and its immediate membership, then we could have religious freedom in the country, that is if we remain in a religious ghetto. However, if there is a broader appeal to the community, then we are in danger of running afoul of our human rights laws.

For the government to suggest that somehow, as its ministers have done, that those with religious beliefs or that religious organizations have no place in social policy debates, reflects a disturbing trend that is not dissimilar from the totalitarian regimes that many Canadians and their families fled in coming to this country.

I recall specifically the statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs who basically said that there was no place for the church and religious organizations in the public debate on same sex marriage. This is simply unacceptable. The concept of the separation of church and state is to protect religion, not to allow the state to coerce religious organizations.

I ask members to think very clearly and carefully about this bill that poses so many dangers and risks to the real practice of freedom and real human rights in this country.

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11:35 a.m.


John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand today and talk to Bill C-38.

Before I get into my comments I want to begin by thanking the residents of Scarborough Centre who, a year and a half ago, responded to a questionnaire I sent out which asked them for their views on this most important issue and whether they agreed or disagreed. It is not every day that a member of Parliament has this most unique opportunity to express the views of his or her constituents. Therefore, when we vote on this bill, either in favour or not, it will not simply be our view, it will be the view of those constituents.

I would like to give those statistics that came into my office that were compiled September 8, 2003: 94.3% were against redefining the traditional term of marriage and 5.7% were in favour. When we do surveys or polls, it is said that 500 is a substantial number, 600 is very good but 800 is even better. Well, this was 1,050 responses and that does not include the hundreds of e-mails, telephone calls, letters, et cetera.

What am I driving at? When we have this most unique opportunity on a free vote, as the Prime Minister committed to and kept his word, I believe that if each member of Parliament had approached it in a similar way, they would have then truly expressed the wishes of their constituents and, indeed, the vast majority of Canadians. Unfortunately, that has not been done.

I would like to refer to what was said earlier today when the previous member and the member from Niagara West—Glanbrook spoke. What I do not like about the debate that is unfolding is the fact that instead of pointing out the pros and cons, the merits or demerits of this, they consistently attacked the Prime Minister and ministers.

Let us put everything into perspective. The government does not have a majority in numbers. Let me say for the record what the numbers are in the House today. The Liberals have 133 members. The Conservative Party has 99 members. The Bloc Québécois has 54 members. The NDP has 19. We have two independents and one vacancy. If my math serves me correctly, the opposition side has 175 members. Therefore, if they chose to defeat this bill they could do it. However all I heard today was how only the Prime Minister's voice matters. That is just not true and it is being intellectually dishonest. The Prime Minister committed to a free vote and that is what we are having.

What does the member of the Conservative Party have to say about his colleagues who will be voting in favour of this bill, unlike members of other parties, for example, who have insisted that it is mandatory to support this legislation?

I will take a moment to express some of my concerns with the legislation. When I was approached after the 1993 election, I was asked for my personal view on marriage and I said that I supported the traditional term of marriage as that between a man and woman to the exclusion of all others. However I did not go out and persistently try to change people's minds. I told them that we would win when the issue came to the floor, that we would have an open and transparent debate and that everybody would have their say. Here we are today.

What happened back in that mandate? We brought forth legislation to avoid discrimination based on sexual orientation, which was good legislation. However, leading up to that debate I can recall the member from Burnaby, Mr. Robinson, saying that was all they wanted, some protection. After that vote was successfully achieved, they were out there saying that it was just a beginning, which was when I started to have concerns.

Let us fast-forward down the road to today where we are saying that we should simply pass Bill C-38 given that the Supreme Court of Canada put it in our court. My concern about this is that the vote has not even unfolded yet and we are hearing the member for Vancouver East, who is concerned about adoption, saying:

It would seem to me to be obvious that if you recognize their right to marry, then on what basis do we deny people the right to adopt children?

Yukon's adoption laws are ambiguous, while gay couples are denied adoption rights in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nunavut. Other jurisdictions have various interpretations. My concern is that adoption rights will be the next step.

I also am not convinced that religious groups will be protected. Let us assume for a moment that they are protected in legislation. We know the legislation has been contested. I am concerned that if a religious group denies a request to perform a service then another challenge will come and we begin again.

The attorney general of British Columbia also had some concerns. An article in the Vancouver Sun on February 3, 2005, states:

Polygamy law vulnerable to legal challenge: Plant: B.C.'s attorney-general....

The article goes on to state, “'Canada's law prohibiting polygamy is vulnerable to a legal challenge and could be struck down because of conflicts with religious freedoms', says B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant”.

Today we are bringing forth legislation to defend, under the charter, minority rights. What is to stop anybody in the future from saying that his or her rights are being infringed upon? And, of course, we will have a challenge.

If we were to look back 15, 20, 30 years ago we would see that certain initiatives were against the law. It was against the law In the United States to be a homosexual or a lesbian. Who can say that down the road this again will be challenged in the courts and somehow a different ruling will be brought forward?

We do want to protect all Canadians. I am very proud of the Prime Minister for having given us a free vote. However the numbers on the Liberal side are not enough to pass the legislation. I therefore send a challenge to the other parties, the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, to canvas their constituents, especially if we are here to represent our constituents on such issues where there is a free vote, and no matter what the response, yea or nay, they should then stand and be the voice of their constituents, whether they agree or disagree. Unfortunately, that has not happened.

I wanted to go on record to express my views, as I have in the past, and I wanted to bring these statistics forward. I encourage members of the Conservative Party to stop attacking the Prime Minister or the government on this issue. I encourage them to bring forward their views, their suggestions, their positions and to stick to that. This is not sparring across the floor. This is probably one of the most important issues that we have faced and that I have faced since I was first elected in 1993.

I am glad today that I am not expressing my view and my opinion only. I will be expressing the views and the opinions of the vast majority of the constituents of Scarborough Centre.

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11:45 a.m.


Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, for years the Liberals have misled Canadians on the definition of marriage, in the same way they have misled Canadians on the purpose of the sponsorship program. Just as ad scam used national unity as a cover, same sex marriage advocates have used the false cover of equality to mask their agenda.

Despite years of hearings and millions spent by the Liberal government to gain an excuse from the courts to redefine marriage, the Liberals still lack a mandate to proceed.

No one would debate that the Supreme Court of Canada has set itself up as the defender of minority rights in this country. If this issue was really a question about the fundamental human rights, as the Prime Minister claims, then why did the high court not say so.

The government asked the high court a direct question: Is there a constitutional requirement to redefine marriage? The court refused to answer. It said that it was merely a political question for Parliament to decide.

Why is this government pursuing this? Let us take a look at the history of this issue.

In the House of Commons and in the courts the government took the public position until June 2003 that marriage was the union of one man and one woman. Suddenly, just days after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that marriage should be redefined to include any two persons, the government reversed course 180 degrees. It completely flip-flopped on this all important issue.

What happened? Did the government have a remarkable conversion experience? Did it have a revelation of a brand new human right than on other national or international court of justice or even the UN commission on human rights has ever recognized? What changed in the course of literally a few days to suddenly convince the Liberal government of this new right?

Is there another explanation? Did the government decide long before this issue ever made it to the courts to pursue the redefinition of marriage in law? Did the government in fact have a hidden agenda all along, a hidden agenda that was first exposed publicly in June 2003, a hidden agenda that had to remain hidden for years because too many Liberal MPs in the backbenches would not tolerate it without the courts taking the lead?

There is evidence to support this proposition. First, the federal government has given same sex marriage advocates, Egale, hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to support their litigation.

Second, the Liberals have given millions more to the court challenges program which has funded numerous other intervenors in these court cases. The court challenges program even funded the litigation strategy meetings that led to marriage being challenged in the courts in the first place.

Third, there is the extremely tight relationship between Egale and past and present prime ministers and justice ministers. According to a National Post editorial of March 1, 2000, the former justice minister, now Deputy Prime Minister, “Already agreed with Egale to consult them before deciding whether or not to seek leave to appeal. Egale simply told the minister what to do and she did it. Her secretive collusion with Egale, with whom she pretends to have an adversarial relationship in court, raises more than political questions. It raises questions of ministerial ethics as well”.

There are no legal reasons for redefining marriage but are there even legitimate political reasons for doing so?

First, there is no significant petition before this House demanding same sex marriage but there are hundreds of thousands of signatures opposing it. This is not a trivial point. The reason Egale and its supporters cannot generate a significant petition is that there is no support for their position, even in the gay community. This is supported by the evidence offered by provincial governments that only a few thousand same sex couples have married in the two years since provincial appeal courts redefined marriage.

Statistics Canada has been collecting census data on same sex couples who cohabit and yet we know that merely a few per cent of such couples have taken advantage of this situation. We have clear evidence that there is little interest in same sex marriage in the gay community.

On the other side of the coin, we have clear evidence from the general public of a desire to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. I have already mentioned petitions. I know other members have already spoken to the thousands of communications they have received in support of a one man and one woman marriage, and my riding is no different.

I am hard-pressed to find any serious political justification for redefining marriage either. This is not a values neutral question. Redefining marriage will have serious consequences for Canadian society. In fact there is hard evidence of some of these consequences already.

First, let us consider the impact on children. According to the social science research, children do best in the home of a married mother and father. The courts are required to consider the best interests of children. If the definition of marriage is redefined, same sex adoption and fostering will forever legally deny some children a mother and a father.

It is not speculation that this will be the reality. I note the New Brunswick Minister of Family and Community Services told the CBC on February 8 that his province will move to allow homosexual adoption:

Once Ottawa passes this bill, if they do, then as a provincial government we have to adhere to the federal laws, and if the federal definition of marriage includes same-sex couples, then we will have to look at that legislation.

Minister Tony Huntjens maintains that the province would not make the change if Bill C-38 were defeated.

Second, the educational curriculum in the public schools looks set to change as a result of this bill as well. A school board in my riding fought a case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in recent years for the right to a curriculum that represents the values and concerns of parents. The parents won that case, but as a result of the B.C. appeal court decision redefining marriage, the province of B.C. is already being sued by activists who want to force same sex marriage into the public school curriculum. If Parliament passes Bill C-38, the rights of these parents to a curriculum that reflects their values will be extinguished.

Third, we are also seeing the rights of faith based groups threatened by the redefinition of marriage. I note the case of the Knights of Columbus Hall in Port Coquitlam, B.C. This church organization faces prosecution for refusing a same sex wedding celebration.

Fourth, we are seeing the rights of marriage commissioners violated by the provinces. Marriage commissioners have been forced out of their jobs because of their religious beliefs. That is wrong and a violation of their human rights.

This case bears special mention because the government has inserted a clause in Bill C-38 that fraudulently purports to protect the religious freedoms of clergy, but as one Liberal MP said, it is a hoax. The Supreme Court has already pointed out that the clause is outside the powers of the federal government and can have no legal effect. Indeed only the provinces can protect marriage commissioners through legislation, as we have already seen, and as we have already seen, they are doing exactly the opposite. The provinces are currently violating commissioners' rights and are being publicly applauded, I should add, by the government's deputy House leader.

This is a very disturbing trend developing here with respect to the rights of Canadians of faith to speak publicly and act on their beliefs. Canadians of faith are being ordered by the Liberals to leave the public square. Recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs had no trouble telling the church not to comment on this issue, that it had no business addressing affairs of state, but of course this issue directly impacts the church. The Knights of Columbus Hall in B.C. is likely only the first of many such cases pitting the rights of religious institutions against this proposed new sexual licence.

That situation has caused a chilling effect already. I spoke with a church administrator in my riding who stated that the church has been given legal advice to break its ties with a government sponsored program that benefits the community because of the implications of this legislation. They are worried that cooperating with government would make them vulnerable to religious persecution.

It is time that those opposed to faith based views ended their religious discrimination and extended the courtesy of tolerance to the over 90% of Canadians who claim to hold religious convictions and allowed them full access to the public square. That includes the Prime Minister as well. He is violating the religious convictions of many of his own cabinet ministers by forcing them to vote for this bill. If the Prime Minister does not respect the consciences and religious convictions of his own friends and allies, then what hope do ordinary Canadians have of seeing their freedoms protected?

Without religious freedom, there would be no democracy. Religious freedom is ultimately the freedom to express one's most deeply held beliefs with the full protection of the law. From pure religious freedom springs forth all the democratic freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, press, association, assembly and the right to vote.

In summation, I support the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Bill C-38 is neither constitutionally required nor publically desired. It will negatively impact children, their parents and teachers. It will negatively impact religious institutions and faith leaders. It is bad public policy and it must be defeated.

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11:55 a.m.


Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are times when certain issues in society reach through to the heart of our duties as parliamentarians, requiring us to do our best as citizens and human beings.

It is my firm conviction that this debate on Bill C-38 is the embodiment of a fundamental issue, which, at its heart, affects the lives of many Canadians, and constitutes one of those moments when we must elevate ourselves to a level of dignity and calm, which govern our conduct and the tone of our speeches. And we owe this to our constituents, who are expecting every member of Parliament to rise above prejudice and demagoguery to better seek the common good.

This essential dimension of our duty as members is, in fact, related to the primary meaning and the ultimate purpose of public commitment, the diversity of ideological and political options represented in this House aside, should guide all of us. In other words, we must do everything in our power to improve the living conditions of the people of our country, and in particular to diminish any kind of exclusion, so that every person in Canada can, in terms of who they are and they rights they enjoy, achieve their potential as human beings.

The bill calls upon us, deeply and forcefully, to remember that as legislators we must promote and protect fundamental rights. As a result, whenever some people are found to enjoy fewer rights than others because of prejudice against their ethnic origins, social status, moral and religious convictions or sexual orientation, then it is our duty to pass laws that guarantee them access to the same rights as others.

It is a duty laid upon this Parliament to work to make our country's laws consistent.

In this way, our fellow citizens would be justified in doubting the relevance of our role if they found that, while we espouse attachment to fundamental rights, we retreat when it comes time to adopt legislation to formally guarantee these same rights. Such inconsistency distances us from the sense of honour and the moral and political courage that the voters expect of us, no matter how diverse their opinions on this and other issues.

This bill also reminds us of our duty to advocate in our daily lives the very value that sets our country apart, and that is tolerance. It may be hard to show tolerance, but it is a value that shows our true character. It requires us to let go of our fears and our feelings of insecurity about what makes us different and it forces us to understand one another, people who are different, and to accept the reality of an individual's personal identity.

Tolerance does not mean having to give up individual values. In fact, it gives them more meaning. All of us in this House have ethical, religious, political and social convictions that define us as humans or public figures and that also reflect the wealth and diversity of our country. Every individual in our country is free to promote and defend their convictions and express them without fear of being persecuted or ostracized.

Some people with strong conservative values, whose Christian faith is deep and meaningful, have understood this. We should be inspired by their stance.

I am thinking specifically of the late U.S. senator, Barry Goldwater, champion of renewing conservative values in the United States, who courageously defended the rights of gays and lesbians. For him, a right became real only if it was accessible to all, which proves his unwavering dedication to what he saw as sacred individual freedoms.

I can also quote former Conservative member of this House, and devout Christian, Reginald Stackhouse. In the Globe and Mail on December 17, Mr. Stackhouse wrote, in support of this bill:

As a Canadian, I don't have to agree with gays and lesbians. I don't have to approve their marrying, I just have to respect their right to do it and live their lives in a peaceful, open way. Showing that respect is something I should do for the common good, not just for the right of gay and lesbian individuals. This country is a better place to live for all of us when we acknowledge we can be different without fighting about it.

Mr. Stackhouse's comments inspire a great deal of respect, because they are full of respect for the rights and dignity of others. They speak of freedom fully embraced, the incarnation of the pluralism in which all of us in this House claim to share.

It consists in the recognition of the right of others, as well, to be who they really are. Pluralism is enhanced through this bill with the formal recognition of each individual's right to live according to their personal beliefs enjoy respect for their identity and dignity as human beings. If we lack the courage to commit to fully recognizing this, we can talk about our attachment to pluralism and rights until the cows come home, but our words will not ring true, because they will fly in the face of our actions.

If, in Canada, we enjoy a level of freedom envied the world over, it is because we have been able to reach a social consensus around the idea that the guarantee of individual freedoms is based on respect for those of others. Consequently, my freedoms and rights cannot be protected if I use them to deny the freedoms and rights of others.

Rights exist and are extended to all or none. Consequently, we cannot allow one group of individuals to be denied rights enjoyed by their fellow citizens. As soon as we identify such a denial, we have the responsibility as legislators to resolutely and courageously remedy it.

Finally, I want to speak in my capacity as a doctor. This profession has taught me a great deal about human suffering and distress. I am happy to say that it has taught me to be constantly aware of people's general well-being, which enriches my political commitment.

As a result, I have been able to see that a number of the health problems many experience arise from profound distress and suffering, often the result of being rejected because of prejudices about their innermost and inalienable identity. Too often in our society this is so hurtful that it drives some, an alarming number of our young people in particular, to suicide because they feel they are being held in contempt, ostracized and harassed for the simple reason that they were born with a sexual orientation that differs from that of the majority. Each such case is another human tragedy, a tragedy that casts a shadow on our own dignity, as it is a sign that we are still not capable of rising to the level of human values that would allow every individual to feel accepted and recognized just as they are.

That is why I invite each of us to examine his or her conscience.

Can we allow such suffering to continue? Must we continue to tolerate people being so wounded, fatally even, by hatred and prejudice? Is it fair for some people to have rights, while others are denied those rights? Are we doing everything in our power to make our society more welcoming of those who suffer the consequences of exclusion?

It is up to each and every one of us to reflect on this very seriously, and to be aware of the consequences of the important responsibility we have for one category of citizens of our county, for their very lives even.

Undeniably, we still have a long way to go before all consciences are won over to tolerance of others and respect of their differences. It is therefore true that this bill will not solve all problems relating to exclusion of this kind, but it will go a long way toward improving the well-being of one category of citizens. We must recognize that they are entitled to the rights enjoyed by the majority so that they will feel, and will in fact be, less excluded, less rejected, thus relieving some of their suffering and distress.

This is not something that elected representatives often have the power to legislate.Today all of us here have that opportunity. Will we have enough courage and humanity to take advantage of that opportunity?

I support this bill because it speaks to our purpose in being here: to improve the lives of those living in Canada, a task that goes hand in hand with the duty to do away with exclusion. I also support it because I believe that my own dignity suffers when the dignity of others who are different from me is compromised.

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March 24th, 2005 / 12:05 p.m.


Brian Pallister Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, to discriminate has a meaning that is a pejorative one and is in common usage, but there is also another use for the word, which means to distinguish, to pay due attention to important distinctions. The word indiscriminate, widely used as the opposite of discriminate, means confused, done with no attention. Those are two important differences.

The question here is to be indiscriminate or to discriminate, which is the appropriate use of those words. We all discriminate. In our purchases, in our associations, in our attitudes, each of us to some degree are discriminators. The charter itself is a discriminatory document in the sense that it chooses certain rights and freedoms for which it stands and it chooses others for which it does not. In that sense it is distinguishing and therefore it is discriminating.

The underlying question is not whether the charter is perfect, few would make that claim. The question also is not whether marriage is perfect. I do not know of anyone who would make that claim. The question is not whether we discriminate. Of course we all do, and both of them do. The question is whether that discrimination is justified or not.

The 2002 Gage Canadian Dictionary defines marriage as the union of husband and wife. Other dictionaries define marriage differently. The bill proposes to change the traditional definition of marriages and it proposes to do so on the basis that a same sex union should be treated as equal to an opposite sex union and that the differences therefore are unimportant.

Opponents of the bill would argue, however, that there are differences which are important. They would argue that by ignoring or denying these differences, the government is acting in a confused and indiscriminate manner, and I believe they would be correct.

The Liberal government has said that it will protect the religious freedoms of Canadians. That claim simply does not hold up, given the consistent Supreme Court record of individual rights trumping group rights. It does not hold up, given the fact that the jurisdiction of provincial governments negates federal ability to do so, to protect religious freedoms. A case in point would be the recent forced resignations of marriage commissioners in my home province of Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well on the basis that they refused to perform same sex marriages on religious grounds. The federal government cannot keep the promises it is making in the preamble to the legislation.

A local pastor and friend of mine commented to me recently that it was good that homosexual people were coming out of the closets because those closets would be needed very soon for Christians. That is a fear that many, not solely Christians, in Canadian society have.

Given the government's labelling of defenders of traditional marriage as intolerant, its ministers' attacks on church involvement in the debate, its threats of audits or revocation of charitable status of faith based charities that oppose its initiatives, words about protecting religious freedoms truly ring hollow. They ring as hollow as the Prime Minister's commitment to addressing the democratic deficit, while at the same time, forcing the members of his cabinet to vote for the bill and in so doing, denying their personal consciences and ignoring the wishes, therefore, of their constituents.

The tactics used by the Prime Minister in the debate are self-defeating. One does not defend minorities by attacking majorities. One does not enhance individual rights by attacking the individual rights of parliamentarians in one's own caucus. One does not protect religious freedoms by dismissing those who oppose the bill on religious grounds as irrelevant or worse, as un-Canadian.

Respect is nothing if it is not mutual. Where is the compromise here that allows for mutual respect? The Conservative position best accommodates that mutual respect by maintaining traditional marriage and by legally recognizing same sex partnerships. We offer a balance that is respectful and that truly reflects the values of Canadians.

Members may recall 1960s philosophers Lennon and McCartney, who claimed Love is all you need . Love is defined as a deep feeling of fondness or selfless kindness. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to love. I can appreciate the point of view of someone who supports the bill on the assumption that it is more loving to allow all couples to claim marriage as their own. If we go at this issue solely from an adult perspective, that attitude is understandable.

What of a child's perspective? If we support the bill, we believe that the institution of marriage is primarily for the benefit of adult partners and only secondarily for the children born into it. We believe in the abolition of the societal norm that says children have the right to be reared by their mother and their father and to know them.

By making heterosexuality optional rather than axiomatic, the bill would disconnect marriage from procreation. The bill contradicts the findings of the United Nations Human Rights Commission which in 2002 decided that the international covenant on civil and political rights did not confer the right to marry on same sex couples. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the child's right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

Society is not bound to treat all relationships equally. We should regard all persons as equal, but we should not regard all sexual or social activity as equal. This is why marriage has been endorsed as an institution in the past throughout the world because it cultivates the necessary conditions for human flourishing.

Those who support the bill, however well intentioned, are advocating a significant social experiment. It is an experiment which has been rejected virtually everywhere else in the world where it has been under consideration. It is an experiment the impact of which could be incredibly far-reaching and long lasting. It is an experiment which the government has not studied, has not researched and has not investigated. No evidence of the impact of same sex marriage has been presented by the government to the House.

The burden of proof as to why Canadian society should be so changed surely lies with those advocating the change. Yet apart from the facile and specious argument that marriage needs more couples who actually want it or that marriage should be for everyone, there is a vacuum of consideration for the consequences of this change.

Ultimately, Lennon and McCartney were wrong. Love is not all we need. We need wisdom too.

Let us not underestimate the magnitude of the change we are considering with Bill C-38. We are not just talking about modifying marriage. We are talking about a fundamental change in its meaning.

Let me talk about chess for a second. Someone claims chess is discriminatory because the pieces move differently. This is a clear case of unequal rights. This is a clear case of discrimination. The solution is that all pieces must now move in exactly the same manner. They can no longer be described differently. However, then we would no longer have chess. We would be left with a bizarre game of checkers with different looking pieces. The essence or the inherent qualities of chess would be gone.

Marriage has had at its core the characteristics of permanence, procreativity and child-centredness. It is a symbol of interdependence between men and women. If we decide that marriage is to become nothing other than a form of intimacy between consenting adults, it will represent a paradigm shift and a fundamental reinterpretation of the core social purpose of marriage.

Some argue that our position of supporting two institutions, marriage and civil partnerships for gay couples, is separate but equal and that separate cannot be equal. This would be true only if one believed that the two entities are the same. If one believes that a same sex couple is the same as an opposite sex couple, the differential description of their union would be discrimination. However, different but equal is not discrimination. Women, provided they are treated as equal to men, are not second class citizens when recognized and described as women.

Nellie McClung, who was raised in my riding of Portage--Lisgar and is a celebrated Canadian citizen and a champion of equal rights, would have abhorred the thought that the price for attaining equal suffrage was the loss of her distinct status as a woman. Women do not need to be recognized as men to be equal citizens with men. Similarly, same sex unions do not require the possession of the word “marriage” to be equal citizens in Canadian society. By denying differences, we do not strengthen equality and we do not enhance tolerance.

My wife and I have two daughters. We love them equally, just as all parents love their children equally, but they are not the same. Our daughters are different and denying those differences would make us less responsible and effective as parents. An outside observer might remark we treat our children differently and unequally or even that we discriminate against them. That would be right. We discriminate for the good of our children, for ourselves and our family. That is true with this issue as well. We must learn to treat those we love equally in different ways.

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12:15 p.m.


Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate on Bill C-38, a bill to redefine marriage. I listened very carefully to my colleague across the way, the member for Portage—Lisgar. He and I and others on both sides of the House each come to this debate from different perspectives. We are for the most part well experienced in life, with good levels of education. This debate proves that well-meaning people on both sides can come to different conclusions. For me, this underlines the importance of continuing to have respect for each other's position.

I have come to a very different conclusion on Bill C-38, which I plan to support and have planned to do so for quite a long time, since the courts made it very clear that this was a matter of the Charter of Rights and respecting rights in our country. I understand that there are different views and that we have come to our conclusions differently. For me, it is about tolerance and recognizing that our friends, neighbours and sometimes even family members who may be homosexual are equal citizens in our society and that we have a Charter of Rights which is a model for the world. I would hope that other countries would look at our Charter of Rights and be prepared to adopt it. If they can improve it, so much the better. Certainly, it stands now as a model for the world.

I would like to take my few minutes in the chamber to discuss some of the issues raised by my constituents, and I respect all of them. Many have written letters and I am in the process of responding to each and every one of them. One of the questions that comes up often is, are the courts deciding for Parliament what we should be doing as parliamentarians? My immediate answer to that is, no. It was Parliament that adopted the Charter of Rights. We expect the courts to interpret the various laws of the country, whether it is at the federal or provincial level. In the case of the Charter of Rights, we have asked our courts to do, in this case and in many others, the work of interpreting that for us as real life situations come forward.

The courts in eight of the provinces and territories have come to the conclusion that to deny access to a civil marriage for same sex couples is contrary to the intent and spirit of the Charter of Rights. It is incumbent upon the Parliament of Canada to avoid balkanization of laws with respect to the definition of marriage and to act so from sea to sea to sea there is a consistency of definition.

The courts are not deciding for us. They have helped us in this case and other cases in interpreting the Charter of Rights. It is now for us to respond appropriately, and the government through Bill C-38 is doing that.

Many of my constituents say that they do not have a problem with same sex unions, but why call it marriage. The courts have made it very clear, and I agree, that marriage has a certain definition in society, whether it takes place in front of a justice of the peace or a ship's captain or whether it is in front of a religious official. To the two people being married, marriage has a certain important connotation. It usually and should imply a very romantic and loving relationship between the two people involved. I know sometimes marriages take place for convenience or for the purpose of assembling property. That has happened throughout history and it may happen from time to time even now. However, for the most part, people look to the institution of marriage as a reflection of their romantic and loving commitment.

I say to my constituents that we must distinguish that the institution of marriage belongs to society. It has been part of humankind's history from time immemorial. In fact, the churches were not always involved in the administration of the contracts and marriages between two people.

Let us distinguish between marriage which takes place in civil society at large and marriage which takes place in the churches. In fact, here in Ontario and in Canada generally, church officials are licensed by the provinces to actually administer the legal aspects of marriage.

For me, marriage is an institution owned by all of society. There will be those for their personal reasons who will choose to be married within a civil context by a justice of the peace or public official. I do not think it is proper to say that one group of society, that heterosexual couples only have access to an institution which by its nature belongs to all of society and that same sex couples can only have something called a union, because by definition marriage has come to have an important connotation in our society.

To those who would say that marriage is traditionally known as an institution involving opposite sex persons, traditions evolve. Churches evolve. My own church has evolved tremendously over decades and centuries, and I expect that it will continue to evolve. Maybe even some day there will be married priests or women priests. I think many Catholics look forward to that day, quite frankly, but others may not. It is in the nature of organizations that there are different points of view. Different points of view can easily exist under the same roof or within the same tent.

Traditions should not tie our hands. They should be sources of celebration. Traditions should allow for the expression of respect within a family, within a community even though within that community there may be differences of opinion. Just think of how the traditions of Christmas 50 or 100 years ago were celebrated compared to how they are celebrated today. I do not know that the traditions of Christmas now, which, sadly, include a lot of shopping, were the case 50 years ago, but some would argue that is part of the traditions of Christmas. It is not a tradition of Christmas that I look forward to quite frankly, but some people do.

Traditions are things that reflect society's evolving habits and attitudes toward things that go on around us. That because something is traditional it should not change, to me is a very weak argument. We have to look beyond simply preserving something only because it is a tradition.

We have to look at whether overall society is getting better because we are opening ourselves up to a broader application of rights and a greater degree of tolerance. I believe that in so doing, in being more tolerant and open in society, we are making our society better not only for ourselves but for our children and grandchildren as well.

Interestingly enough, I have four adult children and none of the four has any problem with this issue whatsoever, but there would be other members of my family, more of my age or older, who might disagree with my position on this. That does not change the good relations in our family. It is a reflection of our country that we are able to have this disagreement on an important issue of rights. When the bill is passed, which I hope we will have done by June, we will continue to deal with the other important issues of the country as we are doing now, including this one. We will continue to take care of the very important business of the nation.

My friend from Portage—Lisgar mentioned that some church officials are worried about losing their right to choose whom they marry. It is a fact now that religious officials of the churches and their communities decide whom they marry. I know in the Catholic church for example, the church will not marry divorced Catholics. I am not aware of the Catholic church ever being forced to marry a divorced Catholic and I do not foresee, whether the bill passes or not, or had the issue been before us or not, that would ever change.

I do not believe the passage of Bill C-38 changes that piece of the paradigm whatsoever. In my opinion, the right of churches to choose whom they marry will continue indefinitely. In fact, it is that same Charter of Rights which guarantees that the churches can in their realms choose certain activities which in civil society may be seen as discriminatory. We have designed a Charter of Rights which allows the churches to decide whom they marry, whom they ordain and so on, whereas in civil society we do not allow ourselves quite that same degree of flexibility.

I look forward to others participating in this debate and the bill being resolved in a timely fashion and with continued great respect.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to Bill C-38, the same sex marriage act, and in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law.

As the representative for the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I am proud to be their voice in a debate which tears at the very fabric that binds Canadian society, the traditional definition of marriage.

I have been accused of opposing the Liberal Party plan to change the traditional definition of marriage because it is a popular position to take. This is not about being popular. This is about protecting religious freedoms and the ability to speak without the fear of persecution.

Opposition to this latest attempt by the Liberal Party to undermine the family is so strong in my riding that even some Liberal Party supporters are ashamed to admit they ever supported the party. In fact, because of this latest attempt at social engineering they are confiding in me that never again will they support a party that has so little respect for democracy.

I congratulate my leader, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest, for his thoughtful and well-informed remarks on this attempt by the Liberal Party to change the definition of family in Canada. I can confirm that I have heard nothing but praise for his speech, as opposed to the rambling, incoherent comments made by Prime Minister Dithers.

Dithering between that which is a right and that which is a privilege has been a hallmark of the Liberal administration. Make no doubt that the people of Canada know the difference and recognize a confused ditherer when they see one.

The traditional definition of marriage, that is, the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, is being debated today. It is one that I am honour bound to represent my constituents in their wishes.

Most Canadians by now are tired of this debate. Indeed, they are asking why we are having this debate at all. Is it that important that the Prime Minister is prepared to threaten members of his own party with an election or be fired from cabinet, rather than allow the merits of the issue argue the Prime Minister's position?

It really says something when it is only by threat that support for the destruction of the traditional definition of marriage, and by extension the definition of family as we know it, is obtained in the government caucus.

If anything demonstrates the weakness of the Liberal Party argument in bringing forth this legislation, it has to be in characterizing this bill as minority rights. The Prime Minister, or as he is known internationally in such prestigious publications as The Economist and Jane's Defence Weekly as Mr. Dithers, has been quoted as saying that one cannot pick and choose the minority rights or the fundamental rights that one is going to defend.

I have heard the argument and it has been repeated to me that in the case of same sex marriage, members of Parliament should ignore the majority of their constituents, that they should vote against an institution that has been a pillar of society for thousands of years in order to placate less than 1% of the population. That is the figure provided by StatsCanada as not being heterosexual. This is also assuming that all gays and lesbians aspire to some type of union, legal or otherwise, which is clearly not the case. Rights are rights.

Time does not permit me to cover all the points on why this legislation should be defeated. I will leave it to my colleagues on all sides of this House to articulate to Canadians why this attempt to redefine the family is a desperate attempt by a desperate ditherer who has nothing of substance to offer Canadians in the way of new ideas or a vision for the future.

I intend to focus my remarks on a reference made by my leader in regard to the absolute insincerity of the Liberal Party position when it comes to minority rights and how Prime Minister Dithers and his party have ignored the equality rights of minority religious groups and education in the province of Ontario, even after international tribunals have demanded action.

I have a letter that was sent by the president of Civil Rights in Public Education, Mr. Renton Patterson, to the Minister of Justice when the government bill to change the traditional definition of family was introduced. I read parts of this letter into the record from the position of neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the contents:

A great deal has been said and written about same-sex marriage. Of note, word from the Liberal government, the Prime Minister and yourself in particular, has expounded on the human rights aspect of the legislation and its necessity for adoption because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms demands it.

In particular, you were heard to say on CBC news, to the effect that: “...the bill is a vindication of the Charter rights of tolerance, respect and equality of all Canadians and minorities, not only gays and lesbians.” We both know, however, that the Charter does not protect the “equality of all Canadians” because your government apparently condones religious discrimination practiced by the Ontario government...

Greg Weston of Sun Media reported on February 2nd that: “the Liberal bumpf passed around yesterday (proclaims): “This government represents the rights of all Canadians equally, and will not treat some Canadians as second-class citizens.” “Rights are rights--none of us can, nor should we, pick and choose the minorities whose rights we will defend and those whose rights we will ignore.”

You are also quoted as saying: “It is the responsibility of Parliament to ensure these minority rights are uniform across the country.”

It follows that all of these same arguments you and your government are using to protect the rights of gays and lesbians to marry can be applied to what must surely be your next crusade, the one to remove...discriminatory public funding...[in] the school system.

The Jewish community is a perfect example of a minority religious community. Through Arieh Waldman, a Jewish parent, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Canada in violation of article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 2.2 of the Covenant demands that: “...each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take the necessary steps, in accordance with its constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Covenant, to adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized by the present Covenant.”

If statements made by you and your government have any truth in them, it will be acknowledged that the Jewish community in Ontario is no less a minority with regards to treatment in religious schooling than gays and lesbians in Ontario are a minority with regard to the right to marry. It is therefore incumbent on your Ministry to immediately institute the process required by article 2.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure that: “This government represents the rights of all Canadians equally, and will not treat some Canadians as second-class citizens.”

In the above context, failure on the part of the federal government, and your Ministry of Justice, to take action to correct the two-tier citizenship of Ontarians will quite properly be taken as an anti-Semitic act.... As you have said: “It is the responsibility of Parliament to ensure these minority rights are uniform across the country.”

In light of all that has been strongly-argued by your government, your Ministry and your government have no option but to take all measures necessary to abide by the direction given to you by the United Nations Human Rights Committee decision in Waldman...

What measures will you take to ensure religious equality in Ontario and what is the timetable for these measures to take effect?

So far Mr. Patterson has been answered by the government only by a deafening roar of silence. So much for defending minority rights.

The following are extracts from more letters Mr. Patterson has written to the Prime Minister. While some of the content I am not in agreement with, I believe they illustrate the growing disillusionment which all Canadians have with the Prime Minister and his failure as a leader, as recently confirmed to the world in the prestigious international magazine The Economist :

“Dear Prime Minister: On December 29, 2003, I wrote you a letter, copy attached. The letter was answered by L. Kingston, an executive correspondence officer. A copy of this letter is also attached. I was not happy with the answer I received. As you can read, I was brushed off by the writer saying, 'the matter you have raised does not fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government'. For clarification, the 'matter...raised' involves your statements concerning the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the separation of church and state. The charter is part of the Constitution of Canada and the matter of the entanglement of church and state is evident in section 93 of the Constitution and section 29 of the charter”.

Mr. Patterson wrote: “I beg to differ with L. Kingston, but the Constitution is 'within the jurisdiction of the federal government'. At a time when you are faced with the sponsorship scandal, you have pleaded with the public to be believed. You said you had no knowledge about corruption in the sponsorship scandal. You said: 'When the charter speaks, we've got to listen', and you said: 'I certainly believe in the separation of church and state'. I happen to believe that when you say you believe something, that you are open to measures that can bring that belief into reality. I have merely pointed out an instance which is anathema to your beliefs. It is my belief, then, that as a statesman, you will be open to measures which can rectify wrongs in this country and see your beliefs become reality. L. Kingston has painted you, to me, as one who will take no suggestions or criticism”.

Mr. Patterson further wrote: “I live in Pembroke, one of our streets is Paul Martin Drive named after your father, and I truly believe that when we residents see that street sign, we think of integrity, we think of honesty, and we think of statesmanship. I believe that the Prime Minister I know will not take lightly the fact that the country he now leads is in violation of a human rights covenant Canada has pledged to uphold, and will have the integrity to take measures to remove the violation. As previously stated, I have listened to you and I believe you”.

These letters represent a minority view that the Prime Minister has chosen to ignore. He cannot have it both ways. Remember it was the Prime Minister who said rights are rights. The Prime Minister is being insincere, disingenuous and he is wrong. The shallow attempt by the Prime Minister to hide behind the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is recognized by thoughtful Canadians for what it is. It is a crass attempt to deflect attention away from the worst scandal ridden administration in living history.

I am proud to stand in this place on behalf of the overwhelming consensus of the constituents of my riding and their desire to see the traditional definition of marriage preserved; that is, the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others as expressed in our traditional common law.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the legislation that is before us. It is legislation that has been brought forward in an atmosphere of great controversy. It would establish the right of gays and lesbians in this country to be married and to have access to civil marriage on an equal basis with all other citizens.

I want to say at the outset that the New Democratic Party, as a matter of official policy, adopted at our nationwide convention the equality of marriage. My caucus colleagues are very much in agreement with that designation of equality for gay and lesbian citizens.

I must say that I have found the divisiveness of this debate to be deeply distressing. I think Canadians generally looking on have found it to be a worrisome thing that an issue that is so fundamentally one of dealing with human rights could arouse such animosity and such deep divisions both within Parliament and in many communities across the country.

To some extent there is an onus on us to make it very clear to Canadians that some of the excessive claims, the exaggerated predictions of the dreadful things, that can be seen to flow from granting equality of marriage to all citizens are really something that need to be dealt with.

It is regrettable that some of that arises from an unwillingness to acknowledge what precisely the Supreme Court had to say on this matter when it referred it back to Parliament.

First of all, it needs to be acknowledged that 87% of Canadians today already have access to equal marriage rights. The judges in seven provinces and one territory have already established equal marriage and have also established that no faith group, organization or institution shall be required against its religious beliefs or practices or traditions to perform same sex marriage.

The exaggerated notion, the simply wrong-headed notion, that this somehow treads upon the religious freedoms of individual citizens or religious institutions in this country is simply false and needs to be laid to rest.

Members of the House have had many opportunities to address this issue. I think what now is more important than ever is that we respond thoughtfully to the advances that have been made, the approaches that have been made, to us as members of Parliament to deal with this matter in a responsible way.

I want to begin by quoting briefly from some correspondence that I have received. There is no member of the House who has not received a great deal of correspondence. I appreciate the fact that some of the correspondence that I have received, letters, e-mails, personal approaches and phone calls have taken the opposite position from what I have set out personally and what my party embraces, namely that all citizens should have the right to equal marriage. Some of those who have taken the opposite position have done so in a respectful way, recognizing that this is a complicated issue for many Canadians to deal with. I appreciate the fact that they have done so.

There are clergy who have written to me expressing the opposite point of view. There are elderly people who say that this is something very difficult for them in their eighties or nineties to begin to get their heads around because the notion of sexual orientation being a grounds for inclusion in the Human Rights Act, for example, or in the charter is something that is just utterly an anathema to them, something that simply did not exist in their earlier lives.

However, what has impressed me most is those people who have clearly struggled with trying to understand the opposing points of view put forward. They have really tried to put themselves in the shoes of people who want to enter into the solemnity of a marriage, who want to make the commitment that goes with being married, of a lasting and loving relationship, with the rights and obligations that go with it. And from there, try to honestly address the question of why one would chose not to allow any two people who want to enter into that relationship to have the full benefits of civil marriage.

I must say, of all the arguments that I find difficult to deal with, it is the argument that somehow this destroys marriage, that somehow this is disrespectful of the tradition of marriage. It seems to me, for those who keep talking about being pro-marriage and pro-family, that they would be among those who should most welcome the fact that we are ensuring that as many people as would want in our society to enter into a marriage relationship, a long term, sustaining, loving relationship, are to be welcomed. Those who understand the importance of family, understand the importance of marriage, should understand that we are better off as a society if more people embrace the tradition of marriage and want to live within marital relationships.

Let me quote briefly from a woman, unknown to me but in my own province of Nova Scotia, who wrote as follows in the early weeks of this debate getting underway in Parliament:

I am the grandmother of 18, great-grandmother of 5. Are any of them homosexual or lesbian? I have no idea--nor do I care. I love them regardless. Do I think a same sex marriage would in some way degrade the morals or sanctity of my own marriage? Of course not, how silly. How could love and caring and compassion and happiness in any way take from my own marriage? If the Lord made humans, animals and mammals homosexuals how can we judge His actions? Surely there are more admonitions in the Bible to love one another than there are to judge one another. I pray you vote “yes”.

Here is a second message which comes to me from someone in my own community:

The purpose of this e-mail is to express my gratitude for your support of the upcoming debate and vote on the legislation concerning same sex marriage rights. I grew up in your riding, both provincially and federally...I was politicized early in life, and have always been pro-socialist.

As a fellow Nova Scotian, I am proud to be living in one of the provinces whose supreme court ruled to allow marriage rights for gays and lesbians. My partner and I are having a civil ceremony next month on the occasion of our eleventh anniversary together. We are thrilled that this option exists for us, and are also very glad that you will be supporting the notion that this is a right all of Canada's same sex community deserves. The passage of this bill will make Canada one of the most progressive and accepting societies in the world.

I want to use the last moment to express my appreciation for those who have been the trailblazers in putting themselves on the front lines of this battle at a time when it was not easy for people to declare publicly that they were not only gay or lesbian but that they were going to participate in the struggle to ensure that all gays and lesbians in Canada enjoyed the same rights as all other people in Canada.

I think we owe them a special vote of thanks. We owe our heartfelt appreciation. However, we also understand that they fought the battle, not just for their own benefit but because they know that gays and lesbians in our society would enjoy the benefits of equal treatment and that the whole of society would benefit from our being a more tolerant, more inclusive society that can be proud of the fact that we have extended equal marriage to all of our citizens.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not be supporting the present bill to alter the existing definition of marriage. I assure my colleagues and constituents that I did not take this decision lightly. My reasons are secular and philosophically liberal.

I favour equal legal and fiduciary rights and obligations for same sex couples but, like most Canadians, I believe opposite sex marriage has distinguishing features that make it worthy of its own designation. The word marriage, in my view, benefits from a sort of copyright, albeit not a legal one, but at the very least a cultural one.

The Supreme Court, in the Nesbit case, alluded to this copyright when it stated that marriage is firmly anchored in specific realities, and that while “it would be possible to legally redefine marriage...this would not change the biological and social realities that underlie the traditional marriage”.

My decision not to support Bill C-38 is based on a concept of liberalism that has caused me great reservations both about the substance of the bill and the process that produced it.

As a liberal, my political actions are inspired by certain fundamental principles, including three which are extremely pertinent to this case.

The first need to ensure equality in matters of public policy. Second, as a liberal, I believe that a healthy democracy depends on civil discourse in a free marketplace of ideas. By civil discourse, I do not mean polite discourse, per se. I refer instead to discourse, however vigorous, that has as its ultimate aim to seek out consensus. The key to civil discourse is the recognition of the merits of the views of the other. It is based on the idea that one's opponent in debate is sincere and motivated by the same intellectual honesty we are.

I read with great interest the opinions of those who favour a redefinition of marriage, including the opinions of the courts and of some of my constituents and close friends. I am not indifferent to their arguments.

Similarly, I believe that those who support same sex marriage must recognize that the traditional concept of marriage is based on a solid, valid philosophical point of view which is both universal and longstanding.

The third principle that guides me in the current debate is related to the role of the state in a modern, liberal society.

Individuals in liberal society, as opposed to those in early monarchies, for example, are not subjects of the state. They are sovereign. The state is subservient to, and depends for its legitimacy, on the citizenry. The state's right to interfere in civil life and culture is therefore limited. The liberal state and its representatives, whether legal, bureaucratic or legislative, lack the authority to proactively redefine society's most basic cultural norms in the absence of an obvious democratic demand to do so.

It is worth mentioning in this regard the distinction between political liberalism and doctrinal liberalism. The latter, to which I do not subscribe, grants the state greater latitude in refashioning the common culture.

Political liberalism was born of the recognition that the state could accommodate the different conceptions of religion that began to emerge in the 16th and 17th centuries only by stepping back from the conflict and refusing to enshrine one particular view.

The secular debate over marriage has an intensity common to matters of religion. This is not surprising, for, to quote the Halpern decision, “the decision of whether or not to marry one of the most personal decisions an individual will ever personal as a choice regarding, for's religion”.

John Rawls, the seminal philosopher of the modern liberal tradition, has updated political liberalism for our time. In his view, modern political liberalism must strive to remain impartial as a way of respecting a diversity of secular core values as well as religious ones.

In other words, when deep disagreements over secular core values emerge, it is not the role of the liberal state to impose a particular solution. Any attempt to legally impose a particular ideology damages civic life, distorts liberalism, undermines constitutional consensus and places communities holding different views in permanent tension with the law. We can observe all these phenomena in the present debate over marriage.

The state may have overstepped its bounds on the marriage issue. Bill C-38 refashions the meaning of marriage in Canadian culture. On a symbolic level, Bill C-38 reduces marriage to a vehicle for the affirmation of mutual romantic and sexual feeling and commitment between two individuals. Marriage's profound role of linking the generations and bridging the gender gap is no longer central to the institution.

By putting its imprimatur on one particular conception of marriage over another, the state has marginalized adherents of opposite sex marriage, whose views are mainstream in an historical and global context. The state has done so in a well-meaning attempt to further enhance the status of gay and lesbian Canadians, who have too long suffered from the ravages of discrimination that in some cases has ruined lives. But the state has at the same time in effect told those Canadians who are deeply attached to the symbolism of the word “marriage” in our culture, a group that arguably comprises at least 50% of the country's population, if not more, that their views on marriage are at best mistaken or at worst immoral, since those views are inconsistent with the law of the land. I cannot in good conscience accept a solution to the marriage issue that sends such a message.

Some would say that we are at a watershed moment in the history of the relationship of the state to marriage. In the 17th century, the founding liberal philosopher, John Locke, recognized that the state could not resolve fundamental conflicts over religion. He concluded that the liberal state thus had to get out of the sanctuaries of the nation.

Because of irresolvable division over the definition of marriage, the day may have arrived to follow through to its logical conclusion Pierre Trudeau's prophetic statement that the state should withdraw from the bedrooms of the nation.

I favour engaging Canadians in a serious examination of a proposal that achieves both equality for gay and lesbian Canadians and state neutrality in dealing with marriage. The government should consider an approach raised by the Law Reform Commission of Canada: to create a neutral civil registry at the federal level, equally accessible to same sex or opposite sex couples, for the purposes of claiming federal benefits for individuals involved in formal conjugal relationships.

Following a two step process similar to France's, where a couple must first visit city hall before being married in a religious ceremony, under a Canadian civil registry system, a couple, after registering federally and partaking in a civil union ceremony in provincial jurisdiction, could be united in a same sex or opposite sex, religious or non-religious, privately sponsored ceremony of their choosing in as public a way as the couple chooses. Some would choose religious ceremonies. Others would use private facilitators to help write vows and perform a ceremony in a non-religious location of their choice. Marriage, thus cut loose from the state, would be allowed to settle back into civil culture and community.

A civil registry system succeeds on ground of equality. It recognizes that the state has an interest in providing a legal framework for the civil effects of interdependent relationships, but may not have a legitimate interest in defining the deeper meaning or significance of marriage. Parliament was in the process of exploring the civil registry option, among others, when the Ontario Court of Appeal effectively cancelled its work.

In January 2003, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights undertook hearings across Canada on the issue of same sex marriage. It even drafted a report which was to have been tabled a few days later, when the Ontario Court of Appeal handed down its decision. Since that decision had legal force immediately, the committee felt it had to wrap up its work.

The committee's report, which was never made public, could have been a springboard for discussion of the civil registry option.

I will thus not be supporting Bill C-38, among other reasons to provide an opportunity, if the bill is defeated, for Parliament to begin a serious examination of the civil registry option. I am not suggesting that this option is perfect. I have my own strong reservations about it. Canadians would need to be asked how deeply they value state sanctioned marriage or whether the imprimatur of the state is judged by the majority to be of little consequence to the meaning they and their community give to their conjugal relationship.

I have raised the civil registry option and the view of liberalism on which it rests in order to highlight that, in fashioning a new definition of marriage, the state is not acting in a neutral way. It is imposing a particular ideology on a cultural institution that has developed organically, acquired its legitimacy slowly and taken root firmly over centuries and millennia, without state intervention, but rather with the state's quiet and respectful acquiescence.

I lament the semantic distinction being drawn in this debate between “religious” marriage and “civil marriage”, as if there are two separate meanings of marriage. Civil marriage, between a man and a woman, means as much to some as religious marriage, between a man and a woman, does to others. Marriage is marriage.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Bob Mills Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the House on a very difficult moral issue. Everyone, including those who are married, those who have chosen not to marry and those who have not taken the opportunity to choose, has an opinion on this issue. Those opinions are based on people's own experiences as well as their values and beliefs. This is a complex public issue that will impact Canadians long into the future.

Let me begin by saying that preserving the traditional definition of marriage does not imply the denial of same sex rights. All the benefits and obligations granted to married couples under provincial and territorial laws and programs are granted equally to common law couples of the same sex and of the opposite sex in the majority of provinces.

We want to affirm equality rights while also upholding marriage as a heterosexual institution. Neither is this debate about jeopardizing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act of 1999 and the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act of 2000, Parliament has already extended to same sex couples the constitutional guarantees of equality and dignity. The current Deputy Prime Minister confirmed this when she said:

The definition of marriage in law in Canada is already the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. It is not necessary to pass such legislation as in legal terms it would not add to or clarify the present state of the law in Canada.

The protection of human dignity has been the courts' basic function since the adoption of the charter in 1982. Once the requirements of dignity and equality are satisfied, the courts should not arbitrate between the possible acceptable solutions but leave it to Parliament. The decision of whether or not to use the word “marriage” depends on factors other than the charter.

A brief history shows that the Liberals are really breaking their promises to Canadian people on the issue of maintaining traditional marriage. Let us consider the following examples. In 1999, by a vote of 216 to 55, the House of Commons adopted an opposition motion which stated:

--it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

The motion was supported by the Prime Minister, then finance minister, and by the Deputy Prime Minister, then justice minister.

In 2000 an interpretive clause was added to the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act stating that nothing in the act altered the existing meaning of marriage as “the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”.

Speaking on this act, the Deputy Prime Minister said:

This definition of marriage, which has been consistently applied in Canada and which was reaffirmed last year through a resolution of the House, dates back to 1866. It has served us well and will not change. We recognize that marriage is a fundamental value and important to Canadians.

On September 16, 2003, an opposition motion identical to that of June 1999, expressing Parliament's support for the opposite sex definition of marriage, was defeated in the House of Commons by a narrow vote of 137 to 132, yet key Liberals voted in favour of that motion. Does this mean that these members do not believe in the same human rights that the Prime Minister claims this debate is all about?

These examples show that Liberals constantly change their positions on social issues. It also underscores the fact that this debate is not only about equality.

Of course, the Supreme Court came down with its ruling on November 9. When it issued its ruling, its findings were that the provision in the draft bill authorizing same sex marriage is within Parliament's exclusive legislative authority over legal capacity for civil marriage under subsection 91(26) of the Constitution Act, 1867. The provision is consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, in the circumstances giving rise to the draft bill, flows from it. So we go on with that court decision, which basically puts it back into our purview to make that decision.

I believe, after talking to Canadians across the country, that they would much rather us deal with the issues of the country, and I could list all of those as opposed to this subject. Yet the Liberal government brings forward this legislation and pushes it on the country.

There are legal issues around same sex marriage legislation. The bill extends equal access to civil marriage to same sex couples while respecting religious freedom. That is if we trust the government to do what it says. I have given a number of examples of where it said one thing and then did another. We are very used to that having been in the House this long. I really question whether the government really means it.

The government claims that it is equally committed to upholding religious freedom and that nothing in the bill will affect the existing charter guarantee. The problem is that the Liberals cannot credibly guarantee that Bill C-38 will protect religious freedoms because the right to marry falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Bill C-38 offers no protection for provincial marriage commissioners who refuse to conduct same sex civil ceremonies for personal religious reasons. In fact, marriage commissioners in B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have already lost their jobs. There is also some concern that organizations may lose charitable status if they do not permit same sex marriage celebrations on their property. This would put those churches that refuse to perform these marriages out of business.

The government is curtailing public debate by not considering the civil union option even though the court has not rule on the specific definition of marriage.

We get into the moral and religious issues that the debate about same sex marriage is not only about rights. Marriage is also a core social institution that predates all modern constitutions.

Many Canadians believe that marriage is fundamental to our society and that its primary function is to create a stable and supportive foundation for procreation. Many studies show that traditional marriage is best for children and recent statistics also show that traditional families are declining.

Many religions have their own requirements for marriage and may impose additional requirements on the perspective marriage partners. For example, Judaism will not marry a previously married woman unless she has received a get. Governments have no rights to force a mosque, temple or church to marry a couple who do not conform to their religious beliefs. The current draft legislation does not protect against such action in the future.

Comments made by the foreign affairs minister that “churches and religious organizations have no place in the public debate on same sex marriage” betrays the commitment of the Liberals on defending religious freedom. Because it cannot guarantee religious freedom, Bill C-38 may have the long term effect of stigmatizing faith in public forums and may reduce the diversity of religious beliefs.

As far as the political issue is concerned, we feel the majority of Canadians are opposed to the bill. In the area that I come from, there is an overwhelming opposition to it.

We have offered a reasonable compromise. We want to ensure that gay couples will have all the dignity and equality that the charter guarantees while also preserving religious freedom and defending the sanctity of marriage. Civil unions fulfill those requirements.

The Liberal caucus is divided on the issue of same sex marriage. This suggests that same sex is not only about equality rights and the charter, as the Prime Minister has framed it. The record of the Liberals on same sex is discomforting. They have been inconsistent.

In 1999 they were for the traditional definition of marriage. Now most are against it. How can we explain this sudden change of heart? Did the debate all of a sudden become an equal rights issue, political pressure, insecure nomination or blackmail by the Prime Minister?

Much more could be said. What we need to do now is simply encourage Canadians to contact the offices of the Prime Minister's office and Minister of Justice to let them know exactly what they feel. Most people would rather be talking about health care, the environment and the critical issues in the country. Look how many days are occupied with this debate.

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1:05 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Conversations have occurred among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That at any time, on or before April 11, when second reading of Bill C-38 is under consideration, when no member rises to speak on the amendment, or subamendment, all questions necessary to dispose of the said amendment to second reading of Bill C-38 be deemed put, a recorded division requested and deferred until the end of government orders on Tuesday, April 12.

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1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give unanimous consent for the whip to put the motion?