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.