Mr. Speaker, I am not going to address this problem from a legal standpoint. Instead, I will try to show through anecdotes and personal experiences how important it is for us as a society to be as open-minded as possible because we have changed enormously over the last few years. However, I think we still have a long way to go.
In the early 1970s, women were beginning to be more aware of their rights, to become more familiar with them and even to have rights. It has only been since then that women have had the right to sign cheques on their own behalf, to have bank accounts in their own name, and to keep their name when they marry.
When I wanted to get married in the early 1970s, I was in love with a black man, and the priest at my church did not want to marry us. And there it was, discrimination. Society was not very advanced at that time in terms of intercultural marriages. I went to the curate to find someone who would perform the marriage, but the priest still refused. At the time, I thought this was terrible. Nowadays, when walking down the street, one meets many couples of different origins, who have children of different origins, and people are not offended any more as they were in the early 1970s.
In regard to the development of women's rights and human rights, I think that we have reached the point in our society where we should recognize the rights of people of the same sex who want to join their lives, share their lives, remain together and be happy.
To show how fast things go in life and how fast our ways of thinking can change, I remember a young woman for whom I was caring in the early 1980s. She had AIDS and was of Haitian origin. When her parents went to see her in the hospital, they did not go into her room because they thought she was possessed by the devil. They thought the devil had invaded her and that was why she was sick. Nowadays, if this young woman were still alive, I am sure that her parents would go into her room and would be able to embrace her rather than transmitting their embraces through me to her.
It is extremely difficult to realize that, in 2005, we still have questions about an issue like the one before us today. This should have been resolved a long time ago. A decade ago, homosexuals had the courage to come out to themselves. Now, they have the courage to come out to their co-workers and their families. It was not so easy in the past. If we go back 30 or 40 years, it was extremely difficult. No politician, man or woman, dared come out of the closet. It took years for this to be possible, for such people to be accepted and respected in our legislatures. Initially, people were respected because their sexuality was a secret. When they came out, at first, it caused an uproar.
Now, we know and respect our colleagues, no matter what their sexual orientation, which is essential. However, if they command such respect from us, we must go further. We must give them the opportunity to lead a full, rich life, a life similar to that led by every other human being. As my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert said earlier, everyone is entitled to happiness. There is nothing conditional about it.
If we take the trouble to think a little about our own families, friends and acquaintances, I am convinced that even my colleagues who want to vote against Bill C-38 know someone who is homosexual, someone who may want to marry and be happy.
Do these people have to give up their right to happiness because their representatives have said no? Will they be embarrassed or self-conscious?
As my colleague from Joliette has said, and said so well, I do not want to have to tell my grandson or granddaughter that it is a bad choice to be homosexual because they cannot do the same thing as others can. I know that many here have a great deal of respect for the hon. member for Hochelaga. I would be pleased if he were to find the love of his life and decide to marry. I do not think there is anyone in this House, regardless of his or her beliefs, who would dare turn down an invitation to his wedding. I think we would all accept and would all turn up with presents.
If we can recognize that right for a person we know well, why not for others? Why can we not recognize it for all of society? It is a right. We have a right to be happy and to choose the person we want to live our life with.
Let us think this over calmly. Could all members of this House take the time to ask themselves whether they want to have to say to their sons or daughters, “No, you are gay so you cannot get married”. We say that older people have the right to marry, even without children. I know a number of seniors who have married. The purpose of marriage is supposed to be procreation, having children. But when somebody is 70, 75, 80—or like the last one I saw, 88—and wants to marry, let us not pretend it is to have children. We must not be ridiculous about it. They did not get condoms as presents, either.
As a society, we need to make an effort to be a little more open. There is much talk of open-mindedness, but for many that is just empty talk. I find that hugely regrettable. As a government, as parliamentarians, we need to meet the needs of our fellow citizens, our constituents.
I too have received cards from people saying they are against same sex marriage. I responded to every single one. To my great astonishment, I received dozens of calls from people who said they had not written to me. Their names and signatures had been used on the cards. When they called me, they said, “Madam, why did you write to me? I have never spoken about this. I am not against same sex marriage”. Some people would have us believe that the majority is against same sex marriage, but that is not true.
In any event, Quebeckers are a little more progressive than that and I am sure most Canadians are prepared to accept same sex marriage.
In the meantime, I hope my colleagues will think twice before voting against this bill. It would allow us to take a stand as compassionate human beings. This has been done successfully elsewhere and I think it can be successful here as well.