Mr. Speaker, I am delighted with the news you have just given us about the passing of Bill C-43 with customary speed by the Senate. That is great news for the province of Nova Scotia as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, more than fulfilling the Prime Minister's commitment of last year.
I am honoured to speak to Bill C-38, an act to extend the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians. I will be splitting my time with one of my favourite parliamentarians, the member for Winnipeg South Centre.
The vote that we will take tonight in just a few hours will provide equality under the law for all Canadians, those men and women, our brothers and sisters, our friends and those whom we love. This vote represents one of the most clear opportunities we are likely to have to declare our faith in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to support our values of inclusion, justice and dignity.
None of us here have taken this responsibility lightly. Each of us have our own reasons to vote as we see fit. I can only affirm for my part the belief that one's human dignity is non-negotiable. Our responsibility here today is to acknowledge that reality, so that through our actions as legislators we might recognize that which we all know to be true, that gays and lesbians are fully equal and that Parliament will do the right thing, in my view, this evening.
On March 21 I spoke to the issue of civil marriage and outlined my views. Today I would like to speak about the process that we have undertaken since then, having been a member of the legislative committee dealing with civil marriage, as well as the ongoing discussions and interactions I have had the opportunity to have with my constituents.
Many people have opposed the bill and many have provided reasons as to why we should not vote on the bill tonight in a positive way. I would like to address a few of those issues.
First, some have suggested that we are rushing the bill through. I think the record will show that this is not the case at all. Indeed, some members opposite have, on the one hand, suggested that we are wasting our time on this issue because there are more important issues to deal with, as if equality is not an issue of national importance. Yet on the other hand there are members who have said that this is so important that they would like even more debate.
I believe there has been more than a healthy debate in this country, going back for years. Certainly, we have had ample witnesses appear before the legislative committee and they have expressed their views. How many more bills have had this much attention? I do not think very many. The suggestion that somehow we are rushing this through rings hollow in light of that debate.
Second, an issue that has been of particular concern to me is that it has been suggested that we should not allow this law to pass because people of faith oppose the bill. In fact, we just heard the previous speaker. He is a man whom I respect and whom we know has faced certainly challenges, but has come here to cast his vote. I respect that. But to suggest that the Prime Minister does not live his faith is outrageous. It is outrageous and outdated.
As a member of the legislative committee on civil marriage, we have heard representatives from many religions. We have heard from Catholics, Evangelicals, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and members of the United Church. There is no unanimity on this issue. Some are against the legislation and some support it.
In fact, in our committee work we heard very positively on this bill from the Unitarian Church, some Sikhs, Rabbis and from the United Church. My own faith is rooted in Catholicism. I was raised by parents who taught me that the gospel message was about love and peace through a living faith.
I support the right of those who, because of their faith, oppose this legislation, but not all people of faith have that same view. In the end we would do well not to assume any one of us have an exclusive domain on what constitutes good morals or family values.
I agree personally with the moderator of the United Church when he suggested that supporting same sex marriage is not an abandonment of faith, but an embracing of faith. This view, expressed in simple terms, captures my own approach. I have not compromised my faith in supporting this legislation. I have embraced it.
Another question raised to exclude gays and lesbians from civil marriage was that only two other countries have adopted such legislation. Why would we want to be among the first countries to do so? My answer is, where do we want to be when it comes to embracing equality and recognizing the rights of individuals? Should we strive to be in the middle of the pack or to be the last nation dragged in?
Canada takes great pride in being the first nation to have officially adopted multiculturalism as a policy. There were many opposed to that, but we look back on that with pride and as a turning point for Canada, and that is a good thing.
We are a leader in many other areas: eliminating third world debt and patenting drugs for HIV-AIDS. The fact that we are among the first is not something we should hide. It is something we should celebrate.
Another reason we have heard not to support this legislation is that gays and lesbians do not even want this. So if they do not want it, why are we putting it forward. We have had people in committee tell us that gays and lesbians do not want to be married, but there are many heterosexuals who do not want to be married either. I do not think anyone would suggest that they should not have the right.
A number of gays and lesbians have fought very hard for that right, to have their marriages recognized as equal to those of other Canadians. I salute them. I salute their fight. I salute their courage including people like the former member for Burnaby—Douglas. Today when we vote on this issue, I will be thinking of them including my sister Jane, her partner Vicki, my godchild Rosie and her sister.
Some people feel that religion will be compromised, that religion trumps equality is what we hear. In a truly civilized society religion and equality do not compete. They co-exist easily and they complement each other. No church has been forced by the Government of Canada to marry or not marry people. That has not happened. The Catholic Church, for example, can decide who can enter into the sacrament of marriage. It alone determines who is married in the Catholic Church. That is how it should be. That is how it is. That is how it will continue.
We have even heard some people suggest that our health care will be compromised if we extend the right to marry to gays and lesbians. We have heard if we allow gays and lesbians to marry there will be an increase in all kinds of diseases and HIV-AIDS. The people who suggest that have no idea what the bill is about. The bill is not about sex at all. It is about love and commitment. Anyone who suggests that allowing gays and lesbians to marry, that it will lead to a dramatic increase in levels of sexual activity, should check with their heterosexual colleagues who may be married. They may be disabused of that theory.
We have gone well beyond the issue of whether it is right or wrong for homosexuals to have sex. A great Canadian once said, “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”. We have moved beyond the morality of that issue. This is not about sex. This issue is about love and commitment, and the recognition that gays and lesbians are equally qualified and equally capable of making a commitment to each other. The moral aspect is an issue we decided in this country a long time ago.
The next argument is that we should have a national plebiscite. If we had a national plebiscite on whether women should have voted, imagine the result considering that those who would have been deciding that would have been men. Or if they had a plebiscite in states like Alabama or Mississippi on whether blacks should have the vote, they still would not.
When it comes to an issue like this, the majority cannot determine the rights of the minority. Alongside the plebiscite argument are people who say we should listen to the voice of the people in our ridings and vote the way they want us to vote. I decided on this issue some time ago.
In fact, it is an issue I have supported and ran on in the last campaign when this was an issue. Rights and justice cannot be subject to a poll. Equality does not find its legitimacy in meaning through a referendum. That is not the Canadian way. I have met and spoken with hundreds of my constituents, both for and against. I have never refused a meeting with anyone because they had a different point of view and I have valued every opinion I have heard.
Today we will vote on the issue of civil marriage, Bill C-38. Today we will decide if gays and lesbians will have equal access to civil marriage as do other Canadians. This week, as we celebrate Canada Day, is a very appropriate week to vote on this issue. On Canada Day we celebrate the best of Canada, the diversity of Canada, a nation of equality, a nation of strength, a nation of compassion, a nation that believes we are stronger together than we are apart, and a nation where we celebrate equality.
Being equal does not mean that we are all the same, far from it. From those who were born here from our founding peoples, to people who came here hundreds of years ago, to people who have just recently chosen to come to this nation, we celebrate our differences. We do not all look the same. We do not all go to the same church. We do not all speak the same language. We do not all eat the same food. We are different. We celebrate those differences because those differences make us stronger. We not only encourage but celebrate those differences.
Today in this chamber we will celebrate the diversity of Canada once again. We will send a statement to the world that in Canada gays and lesbians will not be considered second class citizens. They will not be offered marriage lite; they will be offered full marriage.
When members of this House from all sides look back on this day in years to come, I believe they will see this as one step of the many steps that Canada has made to be a world leader in recognizing that one of the great privileges of freedom is equality. I am proud to support this bill.