Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-38. I appreciate that so many of my constituents took the time to share their concerns with me. The issue of same sex marriage is an emotionally charged one with people on each side of the issue expressing their sincere, deeply held beliefs.
After carefully considering the views of the majority of my constituents who have contacted me on this issue, as well as my personal beliefs, I am in support of the traditional definition of marriage. I voted in favour of the motion that reaffirmed that definition in September 2003 and I will continue to take this position in the future.
I, like many on this side of the House, believe in the traditional common definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Not everyone shares this view. Because there will be a true free vote in my party on this issue, it makes me proud to be a Conservative. I very much respect my colleagues and, indeed, fellow Canadians who do not share my views on the issue and think respectful debate on the matter is genuinely good for democracy.
This House, including the current Prime Minister, voted to uphold the definition of marriage in 1999 and in the amendments to Bill C-23 in 2000. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister, who was then justice minister, led the defence of marriage from the government side.
The following is what the Deputy Prime Minister said in 1999 in support of her defence of the traditional definition of marriage. She said:
We on this side agree that the institution of marriage is a central and important institution in the lives of many Canadians. It plays an important part in all societies worldwide, second only to the fundamental importance of family to all of us.
“—unions of persons of the same sex are not 'marriages', because of the definition of marriage”.
Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages.
Marriage has fundamental value and importance to Canadians and we do not believe on this side of the House that importance and value is in any way threatened or undermined by others seeking to have their long term relationships recognized. I support the motion for maintaining the clear legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
This was the Deputy Prime Minister speaking less than six years ago. What she said was true then and it is true now.
The Supreme Court itself has still not addressed this issue despite a clear request to do so from the government. It is important to note that the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on December 9, 2004 did not declare the traditional definition of marriage as unconstitutional. The court made it clear that it believes the issue is for Parliament to deal with.
What is unconstitutional is any kind of discrimination against members of any minority group. We must work hard to ensure that a same sex couple entering into a loving, committed relationship via a civil or domestic union is afforded the same protections, benefits and status as married couples receive under the law.
All law-abiding Canadians must be able to conduct their lives and contribute to society without fear of discrimination. I believe that the proposed amendment suggested by the Leader of the Opposition would have provided the best ground to find a constructive compromise that the vast majority of Canadians would have felt comfortable with.
I want to congratulate the leader of the Conservative Party for advocating a very wise and reasonable position. The majority of Canadians are looking for a middle ground compromise that would recognize the valid concerns of the partisans on either side.
On the one hand, some Canadians seek to preserve the traditional definition of the term marriage, which predates the creation of the nation state. On the other hand, there is a belief that by broadening the definition of marriage to include same sex couples, Canadian society will take an important step in the direction of tolerance and respect of homosexuals. I believe we can achieve this kind of tolerant, respectful society without changing the definition of marriage.
I am entirely supportive of state recognition of same gender civil or domestic unions, bringing with them all the same protections and benefits as marriage, but for the same sex couples. A same gender couple in Canada wishing to enter into a loving lifelong committed relationship must be afforded the same protection and status as married couples under the law.
We can be tolerant and respectful to all parties in this matter without changing the definition of marriage. This is the kind of compromise that should be reached.
The rights of all minority groups must be strongly protected, and it would be wrong to marginalize homosexuals. Any type of discrimination directed against the homosexual community is completely unacceptable. I want to be clear about that.
For me, the issue is not an issue of human rights. It is about freedom of religion. Just as we must protect minority rights, we must also protect religious freedom in Canada. Finding a fair balance can be difficult.
The Conservative compromise option may not satisfy everyone. It would not satisfy those who believe that equality rights for same gender couples are an absolute, which cannot be compromised by accepting anything less than full marriage, or that the heterosexual status of marriage is an absolute, which cannot be compromised by recognizing equal rights for other kinds of unions. But it would satisfy the vast majority of Canadians who are seeking common ground on the issue.
There is no need to go to extremes in this debate. Accepting a compromise that respects the will of the majority and upholds rights is exactly what the amendments proposed by the Conservative Party represent.
Conservatives would propose that other forms of union, whether heterosexual or homosexual, whether called common law status, civil unions or registered domestic partnerships, should be entitled to the same legal rights, privileges and benefits of traditional marriage.
Conservatives believe that same gender couples should have the right to be treated the same as married couples when it comes to matters like pensions, tax obligations or immigration matters. Any federal law that would treat same gender couples any differently from married couples is completely unacceptable.
This is not a reactionary solution that would infringe on any Canadian's human rights as the government alleges. The Conservative position represents a moderate compromise position that would keep Canada in the company of some of the most tolerant and progressive countries in the western world, a Canada we can be proud of.
The overwhelming majority of my constituents believe that marriage is a basically heterosexual institution, but that same gender couples also have rights to equality within society that should be recognized and protected.
Michael Whitehouse wrote me from Stratford, “I am not opposed to people choosing their own way of life, nor am I opposed to seeing civil unions being given benefits. I am opposed to changing the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman”.
Marguerite and Oscar Schill of Alma said, “We believe that the definition of union would be an appropriate title for same sex couples to own and would give them honour and dignity and their own definition of being united in love. This would not interfere with those of us who own the definition of marriage”.
Mrs. Inez Haid of Listowel passed this along, “I have no bias when it comes to homosexuals. I respect them. Since they have had the courage to declare their lifestyle, why is there not a vocabulary and a ceremony which would apply to their situation? Give them the same rights and obligations as the traditional married couples but don't call it 'marriage' or a 'wedding ceremony'”.
Winnifred and Norman Dow from Mitchell added, “We are not against some kind of union for such couples but feel the traditional definition as the sacred union of a man and a woman must be respected and maintained”.
One of the problems throughout this debate has been the media's habit of interchanging the terms “same sex marriage” and “same sex union”. The media often starts out using the term “marriage” and then switches back to “union”. Let us be clear here. I am in favour of defending the traditional definition of marriage, and in favour of supporting same gender unions. People should at all times be honest and transparent. Trying to confuse voters is not the answer.
If the government honestly put forward legislation that would preserve marriage while recognizing equal rights of same gender couples through civil unions or other means, then this is the option that most Canadians would choose. This compromise is consistent with Canadian traditions, and it is the option that only the Conservative Party is prepared to offer.
I thank all of those who wrote and e-mailed me on this issue.