Mr. Speaker, what a great day it is today for rights and freedoms in Quebec and Canada. This great day should be celebrated, not only by the minority that in the next few days will finally obtain the right to marry, anywhere in Canada, but also by all the heterosexuals who have supported the cause of equality, the cause of rights and freedoms, whether from the very beginning or only more recently. They know very well that confirming the rights and freedoms of a minority does not take anything away from the majority that previously enjoyed these rights and freedoms.
It has often been said in this debate, which has been going on now for many a long year, that marriage is an important institution in our society. That is very true. It is an institution through which society or the state recognizes the commitment that two people make to one another.Through the institution of marriage, society, the state, recognizes the importance of conjugal love.
The fact that homosexuals have fought hard and have spent time, money and energy for access to marriage—this basic institution in our society—demonstrates the enormous respect they have for it and their desire to gain access to it. Their entry into the institution of marriage will strengthen it because they are people who believe in it and have spent years fighting for access to it.
I would like to make two comments on the side. People who followed the debates in committee will know what I want to say. Marriage is not a static institution, contrary to what some people claim. I said so yesterday and it is important to repeat it. Just a few decades ago, when a woman married in Quebec she lost her adult status and became the responsibility of her husband, just as she had previously been the responsibility of her parents. But society changed, and as it changed, the various institutions and elements that make it up changed as well. Fifty years ago, women were not considered equal to men; now, they are.
Today, it is high time to give couples consisting of same sex partners access to the institution of marriage.
There is something else as well that we have heard many times in this debate, namely that marriage is supposedly—to use the expression of my friend in the Conservative Party who spoke before me—a child-centred institution. I challenge every member in this House who has gone before the altar to get married, whether once or more than once, to say whether having children was ever part, even one time, of the vows they exchanged. The answer is no.
When a couple gets married they promise fidelity, mutual support and friendship; they do not promise to have children. The purpose can vary according to what the couple wants or can do. What marriage celebrates is the recognition of conjugal love between two people.
The bill before us was improved by two amendments on the freedom of religion.
Although the bill deals specifically with civil marriage, some religious groups met with us many times to express their fears and apprehension concerning freedom of religion. It was with the utmost respect for these religious groups that my colleague from Hochelaga and I addressed the problem. We were very open to the representations made by the representatives of churches, temples, mosques and synagogues.
Mr. Speaker, you chaired this legislative committee admirably. I told you that privately today and now I am telling you that in public. Although I do not share the same views as these religious groups that oppose opening civil marriage to gays and lesbians, the other members of the committee and I listened to what they had to say. After several meetings with these religious groups and individuals, we presented an amendment, the only one to be adopted yesterday at report stage. It is an amendment that states in black and white that no religious group will lose its status as a charitable organization for refusing to celebrate marriages between same sex couples. One of these Christian groups made a suggestion for an amendment, which we presented and which was passed yesterday.
I want to say one final word on freedom of religion: it is as important and as fundamental to the Bloc as the right to equality, which, in our case law, now includes the right for same sex partners to marry. This freedom of religion is fundamental in a free and democratic society such as those in Quebec and Canada. This freedom of religion must not mean that the religion of some should become the law for others. We do not live in a Catholic, Evangelical or Protestant state or in a Jewish, Islamic or Buddhist state. We live in a secular state, where the separation between church and state is one of our civilization's finest achievements. It is an example of the fundamental principles from the age of enlightenment that have enabled us to expand the definition of marriage to include same sex partners for civil purposes.
We observe society's evolution with respect to civil marriage. However, we are in no way changing the Catholic vision of marriage as a sacrament, according to this church, which does not accept or allow divorce. This in no way changes Jewish marriage, for example, where, in order to marry, both partners must belong to the Jewish faith. This in no way changes any other religious wishes or religious definitions of marriage.
In any state with a justifiable and constitutional charter of rights and freedoms, the courts play an important role. For about the past 10 years discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal, under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Furthermore, the highest courts in eight jurisdictions in Canada, including the appeal courts of Quebec, Ontario and B.C., which are the three most densely populated provinces in Canada, have ruled that the so-called traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional. The Ontario and B.C. appeal courts struck down the common law definition of marriage, which dated back to 1866. The Quebec appeal court struck down the legislated definition of marriage that was passed by this Parliament in 2001.
That very clearly contradicts those, in the Conservative Party, especially, who said that Parliament had simply to reaffirm its belief in or its support for the so-called traditional definition of marriage, and the courts would follow.
First off, allow me to say that, each time someone says “all we need to do is such and such”, all too often the solution proposed is overly simplistic. The “all-we-needs”, as we might define them, are simplistic solutions for complex problems.
I have to agree as well with the 134 law professors who took the fairly unusual and exceptional step of signing a joint letter to the leader of the Conservative Party. In the letter, these eminent professors said, rightly, that the only way to make marriage between partners of the same sex illegal in Canada would be to use the notwithstanding clause.
That was my opinion before the letter. My legal analysis led me to say at the time—and these 134 professors concur—that the only way, today, for us parliamentarians to prevent partners of the same sex from marrying is to say that, notwithstanding what the courts have said, we are suspending the rights and freedoms recognized by the courts for a period of five years, five years being the maximum period the notwithstanding clause may be applied.
Never would I vote, nor would I ask my colleagues to vote, to suspend the recognized rights and freedoms afforded a minority that has been persecuted too long, not only in Quebec and Canada, but throughout the world.
The choice facing us is to support Bill C-38, which would expand the right of same sex partners to marry in the eight jurisdictions where the right already exists and in the other jurisdictions where it does not, or to state very clearly that we are prepared to use the notwithstanding clause.
I have participated in this debate for many years. I have been an MP for eight years, during which time few matters I have been involved in as a parliamentarian have made me as proud. I am proud to take part in the process that will broaden the right to equality of thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians who want to marry. Be they two men or two women, they want to be able to say publicly to society, the government and the world that they are committed to a solid relationship, they are in a relationship of equals, and they are publicly declaring their love for each other.
Having taken part in this debate, having heard the vast majority of the 472 witnesses who appeared before the committee the first time around and the 60 or so who testified before the legislative committee, having travelled across Canada, from Vancouver to the Maritimes, via Iqaluit, Montreal Toronto, and many other places, and having received wedding pictures over the past two summers of couples who told me, “Look, we got married. Thank you, thank you for your part in it”, I say that is wonderful, The pleasure is all mine.
To conclude, when I rock myself in my rocking chair, a few decades from now I hope, with my dentures in a glass on the side table, I will tell my children about what I did when I was a member of Parliament. When they ask me, “Where were you, Dad, when this debate took place? What did you do to provide these men and women with the same right as everyone else?”, I will be able to say that I was there and that, on this June 28, 2005, I voted in favour of these men and women finally having access to marriage, as opposite sex spouses have had for decades, centuries, millennia.