Mr. Speaker, I want to take members back to the dawn of the last century which was one of tremendous social change in the western world. A young, modern generation challenged the social mores that had prevailed. No longer were many willing to seek the approval of the traditional pillars of society to validate their behaviour or thoughts. The only approval they sought was that of their own intellect. Accordingly, a cultural conflict between different belief systems emerged. Traditional belief systems were challenged, often justly so, and new ones were born.
One of the more pronounced manifestations of this cultural conflict played out in a Tennessee courtroom in the summer of 1925. A high school biology teacher, John Scopes, was charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution in breach of that jurisdiction's then anti-evolution statute. The trial represented the conflict between traditional belief systems and the new social and intellectual or secular values that challenged them. Secular values and religious values collided in a public sphere.
A dramatized account of the trial was published 30 years later by playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. The play was entitled Inherit the Wind. While fictionalized and using artistic liberty, the play's account of the trial provides important social commentary on the collision of secular and religious values in a public arena and it remains relevant to this day.
The protagonist of the story, Henry Drummond, loosely based on celebrated American lawyer Clarence Darrow, challenged those who would hide behind and distort traditional religious beliefs to deny the emergence of new secular values. Yet, while defending and advancing these new values, Drummond's character did not dismiss traditional religious beliefs.
Indeed, the final scene of the play has Drummond in an empty courthouse with a copy of Darwin, representing secular values, and a copy of the Bible, representing religious values, in each hand. Holding them both in his upturned palms he stares from one value to the other, balancing them thoughtfully as if his hands were scales and they teetered with equal weight.
Balancing these values is not an easy task, but it is one we all intrinsically know that we as a society must strive to achieve. The undeniable truth of the ages is that no society can exist and prosper without such a balance.
In the House today we are confronted with a similar cultural conflict as that of the earlier age, as another traditional belief system is faced with the challenge of new social values. Religious and secular values once again collide in the public sphere as the House considers legislation that will dramatically change the institution of marriage, an institution that has remained constant across both history and cultures.
The institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman is deeply rooted in the religious belief systems of the Jewish, Sikh, Muslim and Christian faiths, faiths that represent the vast majority of Canadians. That such wide swaths of religious belief systems with their many significant disagreements are united in their common defence of marriage is a significant point for public policy consideration.
Yet we can recognize that the teachings of the various religions cannot and should not be our only consideration if we are to achieve a proper balance on this matter. Secular values have evolved. We now realize that it is unacceptable for the state to prevent any two people who love one another and are willing to make a lifelong commitment from entering into a union. Consequently, equality is not the issue.
Same sex couples are entitled to all the benefits and responsibilities accorded to opposite sex couples. The issue has been settled. Subsequently, this debate becomes a debate about the institution of marriage and its definition. How the state will settle this cultural conflict between the religious and secular systems is our charge as legislators.
Like the Henry Drummond character, we must seek a balance that is both thoughtful and gives equal weight to each belief system. We should not underplay the magnitude of the proposed change.
Consider the words of John McKellar, the openly gay executive director of Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism. He said:
Marriage is not an arbitrary convention and is not meant to change with the times. We're not talking about music, fashion or art. We're talking about an institution whose 4 prohibitions--you can only marry one person at a time, only someone of the opposite sex, never someone beneath a certain age, and not a close blood relative.
He said these “have been grounded in morality and in law for millennia”.
For the federal government to give official sanction to a redefinition of this institution, relying exclusively on the secular values, would not achieve a proper balance. It would impose upon this country a solution that is completely devoid of any consideration of religious belief systems held by the vast majority of Canadians. We must accommodate and be tolerant of both.
We have been vigilant in Canada, as a country of tolerance and cultural diversity, to ensure that no one religious belief system dominates our public policy. However, it is equally imperative that we ensure that religious values are not completely discounted.
Deeming the enlightened and progressive secular values of here and now as the only ones worthy of public policy consideration, while casting off those traditional religious beliefs that preceded them as simply outmoded and irrelevant, is an unsound practice. As John McKellar has stated, “we cannot and must not ignore the lessons of history and natural law”.
Accordingly, neither secular nor religious values should have a monopoly on the formulation on public policy in Canada. The only appropriate approach is one that seeks, like Drummond's character, one that accommodates and balances the values of both. On this account, the legislation identified is deficient. Furthermore, another deficiency identified in this legislation is the lack of genuine protection for religious freedoms.
The lone clause included to protect these freedoms, a clause which states that religious officials will not be forced to perform marriages, has already been ruled as falling within provincial responsibility, thus beyond the federal government's power by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Moreover, the legislation does nothing to accommodate or even grandfather those civil officials throughout the country who serve as marriage commissioners, even though the justice minister himself has suggested the religious freedoms of these officials should and would be protected.
Remarking in a recent interview, the minister said:
No one should be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage contrary to their religion or belief. We believe we can reach accommodations so that those who do not want to perform that same-sex marriage, religious officials or civic officials, by reason of religion or conscience, will not be required to do so.
Presently, some provinces are forcing marriage commissioners to perform same sex marriage, even when doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. This has led to a wave of resignations and human rights complaints from civil officials who have refused to perform ceremonies on religious grounds.
In my home province of Saskatchewan, provincial officials have taken one of the hardest stands with regard to civil officials. Marriage commissioners, regardless of deeply held religious beliefs or tenure of service, were informed that they must perform same sex marriages or be stripped of their responsibility.
Yet the justice minister, who once stated protecting the religious freedoms of such officials was desirable, now bizarrely dismisses this as a provincial matter, no longer a concern of the federal government. Bizarre, because the government has included a clause, as mentioned earlier, stating religious officials will not be forced to perform marriages, clearly a provincial matter. Indeed, instead of taking a rigged line, like my home province, Ontario sought to achieve a balance.
On Drummond's symbolic scales, the legislation teeters too far in one direction. Traditional religious belief systems and secular values must be recognized in an equitable and thoughtful manner. As a result, I would like to pause and reflect.