Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against the Liberal government's same sex marriage bill, Bill C-38.
Renowned expert Eugene Meehan, a former national president of the Canadian Bar Association and former executive legal officer of the Supreme Court of Canada, has ruled in a legal opinion: first, that Canada's highest court has not required Parliament to amend the traditional definition of marriage, as many Liberal MPs have indicated; second, that gay marriage has not receive protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and third, that the federal government has no power to protect from human rights complaints religious officials who do not want to perform gay marriages, as such powers rest with the provinces.
In my speech today, I will give a brief summary of what was determined by this esteemed expert, Mr. Eugene Meehan, and what the Leader of the Opposition as prime minister with a Conservative government would do with this important issue.
The first question Mr. Meehan answered was this. Would the Parliament of Canada be acting consistently with the same sex marriage reference opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada if it were to enact the statutory definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others?
To answer this, he broke the question down into three separate questions, A, B and C.
Question A is: Does the reference require Parliament to amend the common law traditional definition of marriage, as many of the Liberal MPs have in fact claimed? His answer is, no. The answers provided in a federal reference are an advisory opinion only to the governor in council, or in other words, to the government. In addition, in the reference, the Supreme Court did not address the question of whether an opposite sex definition of marriage would fail to meet charter requirements.
He said that the same sex marriage reference did not require Parliament to amend the common law definition of marriage for the following reasons. First, the Supreme Court has recognized that answers provided in a federal reference are by nature advisory only. Second, the federal government took the position before the Supreme Court of Canada in the same sex marriage reference that it was not bound by the court's answers. Third, the Supreme Court did not address the question of whether an opposite sex definition of marriage would fail to meet the charter requirements. Fourth, ultimately the decision of whether to follow or not a reference opinion is political, not legal.
Question B is: Should it be the case that the purpose of the common law definition of marriage arose out of Christendom, is it consistent with the constitutional precedent for the Parliament of Canada to nevertheless define marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life, to the exclusion of all others, so long as the purpose is secular and consistent with section 1 of the charter?
Mr. Meehan's answer is, yes. Legislation pertaining to the legal capacity for civil marriage falls within the subject matter of section 91.26 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which pertains to the exclusive legislative competence of Parliament.
As we know, traditional marriage is supported by all of the world's main religions and by non-religious people as well.
Question C is: Would Parliament be acting consistent with jurisprudence if it determined that for the test under section 1 of the charter, the purpose of the restriction of the statutory definition of marriage to one man and one woman is exclusively to serve the best interests of children and to create a public institution that makes it more likely that a child will be raised by the child's own mother and father?
The answer to question C is, yes. The Supreme Court has previously recognized the importance of protecting the best interests of children in a variety of contexts.
It is therefore constitutionally possible that a law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, specifically promulgated with the secular objective of the best interests of the children, could be perceived by the courts as a pressing and substantial objective.
In light of the fact that under section 1 charter analysis it is the government that has the evidential burden, proof would need to be tendered as to why and how a restrictive marriage definition is required to protect children in Canadian society and how it advances the well-being of the interests of children generally.
If the new federal act included assurances that despite a restrictive statutory definition of marriage for purposes of federal law, all rights, benefits and privileges accruing to the opposite sex couples in marriage would apply equally and without discrimination to those in same sex relationships, this could augment the constitutional chances of new legislation withstanding a charter challenge.
I wish to note that this is exactly what the Conservative Party of Canada and what a Conservative government will do, but I will discuss that later.
The second question that the Lang Michener letter reviews is Meehan's opinion on the religious freedom concerns that will likely flow from the enactment of Bill C-38 should it pass. The main question was: What religious freedom issues would Canadians face should Bill C-38 be enacted as proposed?
Mr. Meehan broke the question into three parts, which were A, B and C.
Question A: Does the Parliament of Canada have the constitutional jurisdiction to protect by statute the freedom of religious groups or officials to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with the group's religious beliefs? His answer, in his legal opinion, was no. He said that provincial governments, pursuant to section 92(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867, had exclusive jurisdiction with respect to the solemnization of marriage.
Question B: If Bill C-38 is enacted could religious groups or officials who refuse to solemnize a marriage become the subject of actions by others? His answer was yes. He said that a punitive same sex spouse who is refused a marriage licence or a place to hold a wedding would have a variety of options to assert his or her rights. I would like to note that this has already happened, so it is not at all a hypothetical question.
Question C: Does the Parliament of Canada have the power, through Bill C-38 or otherwise, to protect religious groups or officials from the actions referred to above? His answer was no. He said that the Parliament of Canada cannot protect religious groups or officials from the actions referred to above because the solemnization of marriage lies within the exclusive competence of the provinces.
Therefore the claims made by the government in that regard simply are not true.
This legal opinion, which was delivered by Mr. Meehan, an esteemed expert, is supported by 35 legal counsels who maintain active practices or academic interest in litigation, human rights, religious, charity or constitutional law.
It is clear, therefore, that only the federal government can legislate a definition of marriage for the entire country. The Leader of the Opposition has indicated that as Prime Minister he will do so. That definition will be the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Our legislation would also maintain and protect in law the rights, benefits, obligations and responsibilities of other types of unions.
The Leader of the Opposition intends to protect the traditional definition of marriage while equally recognizing other types of unions. This is a reasonable compromise position that most Canadians support. Why do the Liberals refuse to support our actions and our proposals in this regard when they know that a majority of Canadians support this position?
The fact is the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party want to change the definition of marriage and they are out of step with Canadians on this issue.They want to shift the discussion to the debate about rights and the courts because they know their position on the definition of marriage itself is not consistent with the views of Canadians.
Like the bill before the House today, our legislation will be subject to a free vote by all members of the Conservative caucus. I sincerely hope that the other parties in the House will recognize that each member of Parliament should represent their constituents on this important issue. No party, except the Conservatives, is allowing a free vote on this issue in the House.
I will continue to stand and fight for marriage, for the family, and for a strong and healthy society. I will help defeat the government and the same sex marriage bill.