Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak Bill C-38 on same sex marriage.
This is my third time speaking on this subject, but only the first time in the debate on Bill C-38. I had the opportunity to speak on a motion introduced by former MP Svend Robinson. I spoke a second time against a motion introduced by a Conservative member. Today, I will reiterate my position for the third time because the Bloc Québécois and its leader have announced that there will be a free vote on Bill C-38. So I am expressing my own views now, although my position is shared by most of my colleagues. The Bloc Québécois does not really have any party line on this issue, but we have noted a number of things that I want to mention.
The debate concerns the protection of both equality rights and the right to freedom of religion. In fact, Bill C-38 successfully accommodates these two fundamental values enshrined in both the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms and the Canadian charter. Consequently, while we support legislating a definition of civil marriage that includes both heterosexual and homosexual couples, we also support the idea in the bill that religions not be obligated to perform same sex marriages, be they in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques. This is quite appropriate. In fact, we are referring here to two completely separate areas or levels of debate. The debate in the House must focus on the fundamental rights of all our citizens.
In a church, the debate is about values, and that is completely different. In my riding, a number of practising Catholics have come together around a priest, Raymond Gravel, who is well known because he is on television quite often. They are engaging in a debate within the church to make religious marriage available to same sex couples. They contacted me to get my support in this debate. I told them that it was not at all my place to participate in a debate within the Catholic church. This is something for Catholic officials and the people who practise this religion.
My role, as a parliamentarian and the member for Joliette, is limited to the civil level. Is the definition of marriage that currently exists in the legislation consistent with the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? In more than eight cases, the courts have decided that the traditional definition of marriage as between partners of the opposite sex is discriminatory under these charters. This is not a question that was asked by Bill C-38. This bill is aimed simply at complying with eight decisions that have already been handed down in eight courts in seven provinces and Yukon, including the Court of Appeal of Quebec.
If Bill C-38 did not exist, or even if the bill were eventually defeated, that would not change the fact that in seven provinces and Yukon, same-sex couples would be entitled to marry because the federal government has not appealed any of these cases.
In this situation, our only way to protect the traditional definition of marriage, if I can say it this way, would be to use the notwithstanding clause and, consequently, for all of us to realize that, in order to have a definition like that, a provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had to be violated.
In addition, the government asked the Supreme Court four questions in regard to this debate. These are the four questions. The first was: does the federal government have exclusive jurisdiction to define marriage?
The second question pertained to the charter. Does the charter allow religious groups not to perform marriages they feel go against their religious beliefs? Is the definition of same sex marriage constitutional? Is the traditional definition of marriage, in other words the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, constitutional?
I remind the House that the Supreme Court replied to this reference from the government. I might add a little aside that the fourth question was asked by the current Prime Minister a few weeks before the last election campaign. It was clearly just a manoeuvre for strictly electoral purposes to put off a decision that was should have been made by Parliament. It is interesting all the same to see that, despite all these delays, we are on the verge of an election we must make a parliamentary decision that cannot be ignored.
The Supreme Court confirmed the federal government's exclusive legislative authority with regard to the definition of marriage and, clearly, the provinces' exclusive legislative authority with regard to the celebration of marriage. To this end, although we agree in principle, we have a small problem with the fact that Bill C-38 already states that officials of religious groups will have the right to refuse to perform marriages between same sex partners. We agree in principle; it is a question of values. However, this falls under provincial jurisdiction. With Bill C-38, the government is treading on the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces in this regard.
The court's main decision was that same sex marriage was consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I also remind the House that, in answer to the question relating to religious groups, the Supreme Court determined that freedom of religion protects religious groups from having to perform same-sex marriages.
Finally, with regard to the fourth question, the court declined to comment, in order not to create confusion. It determined that there was without purpose, since the appeal courts had already ruled on the question. The Supreme Court determined that answering the fourth question would not further the issue. In fact, if the government had wanted to verify the validity of this question, it could simply have appealled previous decisions. As I mentioned earlier, eight courts were involved.
In short, the Supreme Court found that extending the definition of marriage is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Furthermore, the lower courts have already told us that the traditional definition of marriage, meaning the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, violated the charter. So it is quite appropriate for Bill C-38 to reinforce the decisions of the provincial courts of appeal.
Finally, Bill C-38 is in keeping with the overall spirit of the decisions by the Supreme Court and the lower courts. With a much broader definition—one more respectful of the rights all citizens now recognize—this bill now allows marriage not only between heterosexuals but also between homosexuals.
As the Supreme Court has reaffirmed, churches are not bound to perform certain marriages. This reconciles the right to equality for all citizens with the right to religious freedom, whether under the Canadian charter or the Quebec charter.
The idea in all of this is to reaffirm clearly that discrimination is not acceptable in Canada nor in Quebec. I am the father of three children, two still quite young, and I do not know their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, I would not want them to be victims of discrimination.
By passing Bill C-38, we would be sending a very clear message that in Canada, and in Quebec, discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or political or religious affiliation is not acceptable.