Mr. Speaker, I, like most of my colleagues on this side of the House and many on the other side as well, believe in the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
However, in the course of this debate those of us who support the traditional form of marriage have been told that to oppose Bill C-38 would be a violation of human rights and an unconstitutional violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is an attempt by the government to shift the grounds of this debate. The government does not want to debate the question of traditional marriage versus same sex marriage. It would rather focus on attacking its opponents as opposing human rights and the charter. This debate is not about human rights. It is a political, social policy decision and should be treated in that light.
Let me present several reasons why the issue of same sex marriage is not a human rights issue, and why defining the traditional definition of marriage would probably not violate the charter or require the use of the notwithstanding clause.
First of all, no internationally recognized human rights document has ever suggested that there is a right to same sex marriage. For example, in the universal declaration of human rights, the foundational United Nations human rights charter, almost all the rights listed are worded as purely individual rights, rights which everyone shall have or no one shall be denied. When it comes to marriage, the declaration says:
Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.
The use of the term “men and women” rather than “everyone” suggests that only traditional opposite sex marriage is contemplated. The subsequent international covenant on civil and political rights contains similar language. Attempts to pursue same sex marriage as an international human rights issue have failed.
In 1998 the European Court of Justice held that “stable relationships between two persons of the same sex are not regarded as equivalent to marriages.” In 1996 the New Zealand Court of Appeal rejected the recognition of same sex marriages despite the fact that New Zealand's bill of rights explicitly listed sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds of discrimination.
When the New Zealand decision was challenged before the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a violation of the international covenant on civil and political rights, the United Nations Human Rights Commission ruled in 2002 that there was no case for discrimination simply on the basis of refusing to marry homosexual couples.
In fact, to this date no international human rights body and no national supreme court has ever found that there is a human right to same sex marriage. The only courts that have found in favour of a right to same sex marriage are provincial courts in this country or state level courts in the United States.
If same sex marriage is not a basic human right in the sense of internationally recognized human rights law, is it a violation of Canadian charter rights? Several provincial Courts of Appeal such as the Court of Appeal in my province of Ontario have said that it is, and we still have not heard from the highest court in the land.
In the same sex reference case the Supreme Court of Canada declined to rule on the constitutionality of the traditional definition of marriage despite a clear request from the Liberal government to answer that question. All of the lower court decisions in favour of same sex marriage were dealing with common law, judge made law from over a century ago, not a recent statute passed by a democratically elected legislature.
It is quite possible that those lower courts may have found differently if there was a marriage act passed by this Parliament defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. So the whole discussion of the notwithstanding clause is an irrelevant distraction in this debate. There is simply no reason to use or discuss the use of the notwithstanding clause in the absence of a Supreme Court decision which indicates the traditional definition of marriage as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada has not done so. The Supreme Court has also said in various cases that statute law requires greater deference than common law.
Should legislation upholding the traditional definition of marriage be passed, a good argument can be made that the Supreme Court would give it considerable deference.
There are several examples of Parliament having passed statutes without using the notwithstanding clause that effectively reversed judicial decisions, including Supreme Court of Canada decisions, under common law. The courts have accepted these exercises of parliamentary sovereignty.
In 1995, Parliament passed Bill C-72 reversing the Supreme Court's decision in Daviault, which allowed extreme intoxication in a criminal defence.
In 1996, Parliament passed Bill C-46 reversing the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in O'Connor, which allowed the accused to access medical records of the victims in sexual assault cases. When this new law was challenged in a subsequent case, Mills, the Supreme Court wisely ruled, in a decision by Justices McLachlin and Iaccobucci, that:
It does not follow from the fact that a law passed by Parliament differs from a regime envisaged by the Court in the absence of a statutory scheme, that Parliament's law is unconstitutional. Parliament may build on the Court's decision, and develop a different scheme as long as it remains constitutional. Just as Parliament must respect the Court's rulings, so the Court must respect Parliament's determination that the judicial scheme can be improved. To insist on slavish conformity would belie the mutual respect that underpins the relationship between the courts and legislature that is so essential to our constitutional democracy....
There is good reason to believe that the Supreme Court of Canada, if it were eventually asked to rule on a new statutory definition of marriage combined with a full and equal recognition of legal rights and benefits for same sex couples, might well accept it.
The Conservative Party of Canada's position that the use of the notwithstanding clause is not required to legislate a traditional definition of marriage is supported by law professor Alan Brudner of the University of Toronto who recently wrote in the
Globe and Mail:
For all we know, therefore, courts may uphold opposite sex marriage as a reasonable limit on the right against discrimination when the restriction comes from a democratic body.
The notwithstanding clause should be invoked by Parliament only after the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on the constitutionality of a law. As yet, there has been no such law for the Supreme Court to consider, so there is no need to use the notwithstanding clause.
My leader has undertaken to bring in a reasonable, democratic compromise solution, one which is defined in statute that marriage remains the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, which extended equal rights and benefits to couples living in other forms of unions, and which fully protected freedom of religion to the extent possible under federal law. I believe that the Supreme Court of Canada would honour such a decision by Parliament and therefore I will be supporting the traditional definition of marriage.