Mr. Speaker, I have been asked many times by my constituents where I stand on the issue of same sex marriage. I have always been up front about where I stand. Same sex marriage is contrary to my personal beliefs and to my religious faith. However, I understand that not everyone shares those beliefs and I recognize that I am bound by my responsibility to my constituents.
During the election campaign I promised the people of Stormont--Dundas--South Glengarry that I would do my very best to represent their views in Ottawa. Because of that, in the month of January I sent a booklet on this issue to every household in Stormont--Dundas--South Glengarry. The booklet contained a survey on same sex marriage. I asked the people I represent to indicate whether or not they agreed with each of five statements. I received literally thousands of replies.
Ninety-one per cent disagreed with the statement, “I support expanding the legal definition of marriage to include same sex couples”.
Ninety per cent agreed with the statement, “I support preserving the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”.
Sixty-five per cent disagreed with the statement, “Same sex couples should be entitled to join in a legal union and receive benefits equivalent to those for married couples”.
Ninety-one per cent agreed with the statement, “Religious institutions should not be required to perform ceremonies to unite same sex couples if it is against their faith”.
Finally, 81% agreed with the statement, “Public officials should not have to perform ceremonies to unite same sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs”.
I made every effort to ensure that the statements in the survey were neutral so that they would not lead the respondent toward a particular answer. Members will also notice that some of the statements support same sex marriage and some oppose it. I did my very best to ensure that the survey was fair.
The results are very clear. The people of Stormont--Dundas--South Glengarry, the people I represent, overwhelmingly oppose same sex marriage. A smaller but still very strong majority would oppose giving legal status to same sex unions even if they were not called marriage. A huge majority do not think anyone, whether a member of the clergy or a public official, should be required to perform ceremonies that go against their religious beliefs.
The first two statements in the survey concern the definition of marriage. Their aim was not to determine whether same sex couples should have the same rights and benefits as married couples. They sought solely to determine whether the word “marriage” or another word should be used for same sex couples. Human rights have no bearing on the meaning we give to the word “marriage”. Same sex couples can benefit from the same rights as other couples without being described as “married”.
In February, three members of the House wrote an open letter to all party leaders, laying out their case for same sex marriage. The letter says that their position “is not about seeking a change in marriage”, but that is exactly what they are doing when they use the word “marriage” to describe something that has never fallen within the meaning of that word.
The Oxford dictionary defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Webster's dictionary says the same thing. In fact, so does every single dictionary that I could find. Legislating that the word “marriage” include same sex couples is like legislating that the word “dog” include cats. It is just plain silly to tell anyone that a word means whatever we wish it to mean in spite of what everyone has always understood it to mean.
The letter also said that all gays and lesbians should have the right to decide whether to marry or not. This is like saying that all men should have the right to be mothers. These are incompatible realities. Refusing to apply the word “marriage” to the union of persons of the same sex is not a legal issue. It is moral and common sense one.
We can give same sex couples exactly the same rights and benefits as married couples without trying to legislate the definition of the word “marriage”. That is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition proposes to do.
The government pretends that it is bound by decisions of provincial appeal courts to enact this legislation exactly as is and authorize same sex marriages. In fact, the government goes even further. It even pretends that once a provincial appeal court has ruled on an issue, the only way for Parliament to override that ruling would be to invoke the notwithstanding clause. The Liberals pretend to be great defenders of our court system and of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Of course, this is sheer nonsense. The truth is that the Liberal government can and does ignore and override provincial court decisions all the time.
As the Conservative treasury board critic, I am deeply involved in the issue of whistleblower protection and the rights of public servants.
Joanna Gualtieri is a very noble and courageous lady who refused to join a conspiracy of silence that allowed the Department of Foreign Affairs to waste countless millions, or even billions, of taxpayer dollars on obscenely lavish accommodations for diplomats. She recently told the government operations committee of a case in which the government enacted a law that was contrary to the court of appeal rulings in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Ontario. These provincial courts all ruled that public servants should have the right to go to court to resolve employment related issues.
The federal government never appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Instead, it simply added an obscure clause to the Public Service Modernization Act which says that public servants, unlike private sector employees, have no right to access the courts to deal with employment related matters. The government simply swept aside four provincial appeal court rulings and denied one group of Canadians access to legal rights that are enjoyed by other Canadians.
In 2000 the government passed changes to the Elections Act which flew in the face of four previous court decisions relating to third party advertising during the elections. The National Citizens Coalition, then led by our present Leader of the Opposition, challenged the government's restriction to free speech on two previous occasions and won both of them. A similar gag law was struck down in British Columbia. The Supreme Court struck down spending limits for the referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
Provincial and federal courts clearly and repeatedly stated that third party spending limits were contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the Liberal government kept appealing, using its unlimited supply of taxpayer money to litigate the same issue time after time until it got the answer it wanted. The government pulled out all stops to force through a law that had already been ruled contrary to the charter.
Consequently, when the government claims that provincial court rulings govern such acts, no one is fooled by the tales it is telling.
The government has decided not to appeal the provincial court rulings on same sex marriage. It has decided to legislate a new definition of the word “marriage”, even though the Supreme Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of the traditional definition.
The Liberals pretend that anyone who opposes this bill opposes basic human rights and freedoms. This is mindless fearmongering. It is an affront to 9 out of 10 of my constituents. It is an insult and an outrage to Canadians and parliamentarians who oppose this bill. It is a testament to the monumental hypocrisy of the government.
I want to make one more point. In the open letter I referred to earlier, my hon. colleagues said, “This discussion is about love and commitment”. They said that same sex couples, “need the support of...the state to live out faithful, loving commitments”.
I disagree. Nobody needs the support of the state to live in a loving, committed relationship. The state must never get into the business of validating people's affections for one another. Love is, and must remain, between two people, their families and their God. The legal status of marriage between a man and a woman is not about validating love. It is about supporting an institution that is perceived to serve the interests of society as a whole.
If Canadians do not believe that giving legal status and benefits to same sex unions serves some higher interests to society, then they should not be compelled to grant such status and benefits. In any event, such unions cannot reasonably be called marriage.
If the government decides to press ahead with this unnecessary and divisive legislation, then it should have the courage to take responsibility for that choice instead of hiding behind the robes of judges and demonizing those who take a different view.
I will definitely be voting against this flawed bill.