Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for York South—Weston.
Bill C-38, the civil marriage act, seeks to change the definition of marriage from a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, to any two persons to the exclusion of all others. The difference is defining characteristics. The traditional definition of marriage has defining characteristics. The proposed definition of marriage appears not to have any defining characteristics whatsoever, which seems to be very odd.
Even this morning the justice minister in his speech continued to debate whether this was a matter of human rights and a matter of equality. There is still a debate. I think it is very clear to all members and to all the public now that if this were really a matter of human rights, then it would not be subject to a free vote. That is the issue. Human rights are not subject to a free vote.
With regard to the equality provisions of the charter, there are two substantive exceptions to that provision.
First, as we all know that section 33 of the charter, the notwithstanding clause, permits Parliament to continue to operate for up to five years.
The second broad exception is found in section 1 of the charter. It reads:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
What that really means is any of the rights and freedoms provided in the charter can be suspended or can be overridden if under a section 1 analysis, they determine that it is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
In fact, this case, with regard to whether the definition of marriage is constitutional, has come before the courts many times. This is much like the Quebec referendum question. We are going to keep asking the question, keep going back to the people and eventually it is going to pass and become law. There may not be a final answer. This is driven by the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has clearly laid out that it views the charter as a living tree. It changes. We change and, therefore, our interpretation of that changes.
We have to be very careful. Now the Supreme Court is telling us that, even though Parliament is supposed to make the laws and the court is supposed to interpret and apply those laws, the charter is a living tree and if the government does not act, it will act and change the law and the government will have to deal with it.
This is the challenge for us. The Supreme Court of Canada has given us a clear signal.
As I mentioned, for many years the question about whether the constitutionality of the definition of marriage has been challenged in the courts. In the last case, before the Halpern case which triggered all of this, the Attorney General of Canada argued that the objective of limiting marriage to opposite sex couples was sufficiently important to warrant infringing on the rights of same sex couples. The next point was that the purpose of marriage was to provide a societal structure for the procreation of children in order to perpetuate Canadian society. It was very clear. This was the Government of Canada. This was the position before the courts.
What happens when we have the Halpern case where, all of a sudden, the same details come out? In July 2002, Halpern v. Canada, the Ontario Supreme Court heard a case dealing with the constitutionality of the definition of marriage. This is what gives me the most problem. It is probably the reason why I am totally opposed to Bill C-38. It effectively discredited heterosexual marriage by citing the number of divorces and the existence of common law marriage.
This is something that had not changed overnight, not since the last Supreme Court decision. It just happened to be a different panel of the court, three persons on a panel. That was their view. It was not the decision of the Supreme Court.
The court went on. It also dismissed the importance of the ability to procreate, citing the availability of reproductive technologies, such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy and adoption just to name a few.
By the failure of the court case, the arguments being made all of a sudden were challenging what happened in the B.C. court decision a year earlier. By looking at marriage and the distinctive characteristics of marriage, it tried to discredit them to the point that it might tip the balance in terms of a section 1 analysis. That is where it always has been a matter of a violation or an infringement on equality rights.
Under section 1 it was not so great because of the consequences. If we change the definition of marriage, look what it would do to the definition of family, look what it would do to the parent-child relationship, look at all the other risks that would come about, which I will deal with shortly.
In my view, the court case that has triggered all of this summarily dismisses the relevance of marriage to any aspect of social well-being of Canadians, which is one of the reasons why we are here. It is to protect the health and well-being of all Canadians, especially our children.
Let me paraphrase Justice Robert Blair on assessing that court decision. He warned that the legal redefinition of marriage would not be an incremental change, but a profound one, with extremely complex consequences. These include touching the core of many people's beliefs and value systems, resulting in social, political, cultural, emotional, and legal ramifications. This is very ominous, and I think it is a caution and maybe more strongly a severe warning to legislators.
Daniel Cere of McGill University also talked about the impact on children. He raises a point that members have not talked about very much. Under the bill, the biological concept of parent will be replaced by a legal parent. This is very important because all of a sudden the role of biological parents is coming under question. I totally disagree.
I want to conclude by talking about marriage. This is all about that. Marriage promotes the bonding of men and women and the creation of stable and durable partnerships for life and property. It recognizes the interdependence of men and women. It embodies the spiritual, social, economic and contractual dimensions. It reflects a commitment to fidelity and monogamy.
Marriage serves as an optimal societal structure for the birthing and rearing of children, at least to the extent necessary for the perpetuation of society. It provides for mutual support between men and women. It supports the birthright of children. Marriage promotes bonding between men, women and children. It guides the transformation of children into young men and women who are readying themselves for marriage and to begin a new cycle. Marriage grows the family tree and develops broad supports and securities for all members.
These are the distinctive characteristics of the definition of marriage being one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
The potential change to the parent-child bond will have a profound effect on society. I believe that but I do not know because we will not know until it happens. There are also clear possible effects on religious rights as we know. Paragraph 60 of the Supreme Court reference decision says:
Returning to the question before us, the Court is of the opinion that, absent unique circumstances with respect to which we will not speculate, the guarantee of religious freedom in s. 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials...
This involves the living tree issue. Today we do not know of any, but based on what has happened so far, there will be a challenge to religious rights and freedoms.
I believe the redefinition constitutes a radical societal change. It may not have immediate societal consequences, but over time it may have, and I stress may have enormous implications. This is not just about the infringement on the rights of gays and lesbians. It is also about diminishing the relevance of the most important societal institution, and that is marriage. In my opinion, the potential for material and adverse consequences is so great that we should take the time to more fully assess the broader implications of this fundamental change to families, children and religious freedoms.
With all due respect to the House, my view is that Bill C-38 should not proceed and that the notwithstanding clause under section 33 of the charter should be invoked to provide Parliament with the time it needs to make a fully informed decision.