Mr. Speaker, first I want to say that earlier my colleague from Joliette made a rather thorough analysis of Bill C-38. I want to congratulate him and thank him. I want him to know that all of his speeches in this House are important and eagerly anticipated.
That said, as you know, the government has introduced a bill entitled the civil marriage act, which, while respecting religious freedom, gives same sex couples the right to civil marriage. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the legislation also applies to everyone. Everyone has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.
According to the government, same sex couples must have equal access to marriage, otherwise they would be victims of discrimination. We cannot and must not choose to defend some rights and not others. If the basic rights of one minority group can be violated then those of other minority groups are at equal risk of being violated. This bill respects and defends the rights that the charter guarantees to all.
The courts of eight provinces and territories have recognized the right to equality without discrimination requires access to civil marriage for spouses of the same sex. There have been thousands of legal marriages involving same sex couples.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and of religion. There is nothing in this bill that is against those freedoms, particularly the right of religious groups to affirm their beliefs, and the right of religious authorities to refuse to perform marriages that are against their beliefs. This is why the bill refers only to civil marriages. Religious authorities will continue to make their own decisions on this.
A number of people, while in favour of the recognition of same sex marriage, want these unions to be designated by some other term, for instance civil union. A civil union is not a civil marriage. It does not respect the rights to equality without discrimination of the same sex spouses and contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision has recognized that Parliament had jurisdiction over marriage, but did not have the jurisdiction to create an institution other than marriage for same sex spouses. The government's determination to uphold the right to equality without discrimination eliminates any possible application of the notwithstanding clause with a view to refusing same sex couples equal right of access to civil marriage.
Marriage is a fundamental institution of society and the Parliament of Canada has a responsibility to support that institution, which reinforces a commitment to a relationship and which, for many, constitutes the very basis of family life. While respecting religious freedom, the bill affords same sex couples wishing to marry the same civil legal recognition of their commitment as other married couples.
The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that it would be best for Parliament to establish legislative uniformity throughout the country. Federal legislation represents the best way to have clear direction. The bill acknowledges that freedom of religion is already fully protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as recently confirmed by the Supreme Court decision. This is why the bill refers to civil marriage in its title. Religious authorities will therefore continue to make their own decisions on this matter.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality. If there is one thing everyone agrees on, it is that everyone has the right to happiness and to pursue happiness. Often, marriage is the way to find happiness. We often hear people describe their wedding as the best day of their life.
Movies throughout the world, whether in India, the United States, or in France, often end with, “They got married and lived happily ever after”. Children's stories end that way too, with a happy ending. Happiness is found in marriage. Everyone is entitled to happiness.
Gays and lesbians are not inferior. They feel love like anyone else and that must be respected. They commit to one another. There are same sex couples that have been together for many years or have always been together. They commit to one another and live together because they are in love. They want to get married because they are in love. We have to respect that. I want to remind hon. members that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal access to happiness.
In conclusion, I want to remind the House that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal access to happiness.