Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak to the government's bill on civil marriage and the legal recognition of same sex unions.
In tabling this bill, the government is acting responsibly in order to reaffirm its commitment to three important principles: equality, freedom of religion and full and transparent democratic debate. The government recognizes that this is a matter of equality and fundamental human dignity and that partners of the same sex must not be denied the ability to enjoy and formalize one of life's most significant relationships.
It is very interesting that in this past week when we have been travelling across the country talking about the public health goals for this country, the number one word that came up time and time again was “belonging”. It became extraordinarily important to Canadians that people would feel secure in a personal and cultural identity which made them feel that they belonged. The words “equity” and “dignity” and the idea of social inclusion are now fundamentally accepted as a determinant of health.
It is interesting as we discuss this extending of civil marriage how many speakers will speak about the rights. Many speakers, including our justice minister and our Prime Minister, and the eloquent decision of the Supreme Court have talked about this as an issue of rights. Today I want to talk about why it is the right thing to do to extend the opportunity for all couples in this country to commit to one another and to formalize their relationship.
It was 25 years ago when I first attended a civil ceremony at city hall in Toronto. The eloquent justice of the peace talked about this country as being only as strong as its individual family units, that a chain is only ever as strong as its individual links. In the bill we are talking about making each link in this country as strong as it can possibly be. It helps individuals to be stronger by being part of a unit. It helps families to be stronger because of the commitment of the parents. It helps groups in the provinces and in the country to benefit from this fundamental link in our country which is the family.
We formalize our relationships with one another as we sign contracts and other documents and pledge allegiance. It clarifies our expectations and it strengthens our relationships. For me this debate has served us well as Canadians to really examine what marriage means to each of us.
Earlier this year United Church Moderator Peter Short hosted the breakfast on the Hill. It was impressive when he eloquently articulated some of the issues, which were beautifully written in his article. He said:
How, then, shall we be faithful to marriage? Not by forbidding change. Change is the only medium in which faithfulness can really be faithfulness. Faithfulness is to an unchanging environment as autopilot is to flying.
So let me express my hope and my prayer for all who are married and for all who stand at the gate of the honourable estate. Love is always a risk. So is life. But we believe in marriage as a good house that shelters the presence of the greatest of gifts. It is a good house for all the people and an honourable estate from which no one should be turned away.
It was interesting as Dr. Short spoke with us, that he explained the struggle that had taken place in the United Church of Canada over 20 years ago in terms of the ordination of gay ministers. The continued progressive leadership on this difficult issue has been an amazing strength for this country to have an institution such as the United Church of Canada way out ahead on this.
It was his explanation of how two people who had committed to one another are really saying that they could do more together than each of them could do apart. As a family physician, I felt it was the same as two and two make five. It is the commitment together that actually means there is a little pressure to get through those tough times.
I was very impressed by the order of service for the same gender covenant by the United Church which was compiled and edited by Fred Graham and Louise Mangan-Harding. They were talking about developing a covenant service. They said that when a local congregation becomes aware that a couple wishes to share a life of equality, of mutual love, of care, respect, forgiveness, comfort, joy, hospitality and faithfulness and if no previous commitment is violated, the congregation may wish to develop with the couple a liturgical celebration of a committed relationship. I think we all know that a covenant is a voluntary bond by which the parties make certain pledges to one another.
In looking at this I was thinking of how frightened I was at my own marriage 26 years ago about what actually I was committing to. It was very impressive to read these vows again, as Moderator Short has said, that we would not want to exclude anyone from.
The statement of purpose indicates that marriage in the United Church is “a timeless and holy moment, a moment of hope and expectation. To share their lives, to encourage creativity, to inspire each other to reach beyond the limits of the ordinary--not at the expense of a partner's individuality but inspired by the strength of the common bond....We witness the making of a covenant, as two persons publicly declare their intent to enter into an intimate relationship of enduring love, of deep fidelity and trust, expressing the highest aspirations. May those gathered here who live in intimate and loving relationships find that relationship renewed and strengthened, as we offer the prayers for these two people who are about to begin a united life together”.
It is always helpful to remember those promises and to wonder why anyone would not feel that any two people in this country who want to make this serious promise to one another should be prohibited from doing so. To think that two people would say “to be my beloved partner, to be no other than yourself, I promise to respect you, trust you, cherish you and help you; I promise to be faithful to you and honest with you; I promise to share my life with you in abundance and in need; I promise to forgive us as we have been forgiven and try with you to love ever more dearly ourselves, our word and our God, that we may serve together”. In a society that is ever growing, in a society that needs to figure out ways of being stronger, it seems odd that we would deny a couple this opportunity.
If standing together before their friends to pledge their lives to a future together, why would a God of love deny a couple this opportunity is what Moderator Short has asked.
On the plane last week I watched the movie Shall We Dance? There was a wonderful scene where Susan Sarandon asked why she needed a marriage and was worried that hers was breaking down. I was truly touched by the admission that being married actually has a witness on one's life. The wonderful screenplay by Audrey Welles puts that into something which touches each of us personally.
We need to remind ourselves that this is not only for religious people. A number of the gay and lesbian people in my riding want to remind us that being gay and lesbian does not mean that one is not religious. There are gay people and lesbian people who are religious and others who are not, in the same way that there are heterosexual people who are religious and others who are not.
It is the heterosexual people and non-religious people in my riding who have been very concerned that if marriage was only left to churches they would not be allowed to get married at city hall. They would be allowed to go to city hall for a civil union and that is unacceptable to them. They are challenging us to say that option would only be there because we are afraid to give full rights of marriage to the homosexual and lesbian community.
We cannot have two tiered marriage in the same way as we fight every day against two tiered medicine. This is about equality. It is about civil rights but it mainly is about the right thing to do.
My parents were florists. I remember as a little girl the first time that one of the gay members of the staff had enough nerve to bring his same sex partner to the Christmas party. I remember thinking it was wonderful. I remember as a resident having to redefine the next of kin. I remember our fight in the House on same sex benefits. Now we must take this final step to full equality.
This is about people feeling included. It is about security. It is that this country will only be as strong as its individual units.
Members of my staff refer to themselves as post-charter kids. They grew up knowing only the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They know that this is the right thing to do. They know the Canada that they will inherit will be stronger as a result of our acting in the House now, not waiting for them to do it later.