Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by commending all Canadians who have had the courage and the diligence to speak to or write their member of Parliament on this particular very important issue. Regardless of their views, their responsible and diligent involvement is vital to the survival of our democracy. It is our duty as parliamentarians to give full consideration to the concerns of those who have sent us to this House to represent them. I thank the many people from Peace River who have contacted me on this issue.
Nevertheless, I recognize that what is popular certainly is not always what is right. Moreover, the fundamental human rights of an individual or a minority cannot be subject to the whims or the discretion of the majority or the vocal or powerful lobby groups.
As parliamentarians, we have a duty to seek what is true and what is just. For that, our constituents expect us to look not only to them for direction but also to the collective wisdom of those outside this brief and narrow intersection of time and space that our lives and our current culture represent.
It will be said that while older traditions provide good guidance, we cannot follow them blindly, and with this I am in full agreement. However, as a society amazed by the speed of our own technological advancement, the greater risk is that we succumb to the naive or vain assumption that revolutionary changes necessarily lead to progress.
The decadence and the decline of previous civilizations in the midst of great material prosperity should always stand as a warning to us. If we dig deep into their histories, we often find beneath the veneer of material prosperity a hollow core, the inner life having gone away.
If we look at the major world religions that still speak to the human spirit, we find that they share teachings of respect for human life and dignity and a sense of self-transcendence.
We do not have to share in these religions' premises or beliefs in order to acknowledge that many of the values they encourage and the wealth of the human experience they contain are valuable.
While we cannot impose a moral or legal code derived exclusively from a particular religious faith, neither can we dismiss reasonable ethical considerations simply because their conclusions happen to be shared by religious faiths or because the people who bring them forward are from those religions.
Given these considerations, I also wish to commend those of my colleagues on both sides of this House and on both sides of this debate who have been diligent, have asked themselves what is right, and have had the humility to seek the best advice and the courage to stand up for the best answer they have found regardless of their political or personal consequence.
I must also say shame on any of us who put our own political and personal interests ahead of those of our fellow citizens, especially those who are the most vulnerable: our children and our children's children.
Shame on any of us who denigrate or dismiss the contribution of our fellow citizens on either side of this issue simply because they are guided in their consideration by their religious faith. If the reasons they put forward are reasonable, let us listen to them, whether we share their religious faith or not. To do otherwise would clearly demonstrate a lack of objectivity, if not radical bigotry.
For those of my colleagues whose opinion differs from mine, I wish to briefly outline why I consider it vital that we give full consideration to this matter and further reconsideration to the issue of marriage, despite the divisiveness that it might bring.
First, however, I should note that this would not be the first time the House has reconsidered this issue. On June 8, 1999, the House voted overwhelmingly, 216 to 55, to maintain the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Second, I should add that this is not necessarily the last time that our society will consider this issue. Within months of Parliament's 1999 vote, lower court rulings extended the definition of marriage to include same sex relationships, but in 2003 the government of the day decided to stop the appeals process on the issue, essentially tying the hands of Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada on being able to reinforce the 1999 decision in the House. Although the justice committee conducted cross-Canada hearings on the issue in 2003, it never reported those findings back to the House.
When consultations were cut short, the Canadian Parliament voted to change the definition of marriage. In that vote, many members of the House were forced to follow a party line. Moreover, many members of the House made decisions and still maintain their positions based on a mistaken assumption that the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of same sex marriage.
Even this week, I have heard the same misleading references to the need for the use of the notwithstanding clause should the current legislation be revisited. The Supreme Court has never stated that preserving marriage as a union between one man and one woman contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While lower courts have made rulings on this matter, these rulings have never been tested at the Supreme Court level.
Most important, none of the lower court rulings have considered children's rights. Moreover, there was no mention of children in the previous government's reference to the Supreme Court and none in the reply. Thus, the marriage law was changed without giving any consideration whatsoever to the rights of children.
In stark contrast, the French National Assembly studied this matter at great length and published a 450 page report in January of this year that took a position opposite to Canada's. It did so exclusively to protect the rights of children. It cited the UN convention on the rights of children, signed by Canada in 1991, which clearly states that, to the extent possible, every child has the right to know and be raised by its mother and its father.
This summer, something happened to me that changed my life. I became a father. I am sure that I do not have to tell members that when a new life comes into one's home, everything changes. Suddenly the most important thing in my life is the protection of my daughter.
I know that any parent in this chamber tonight can relate to the fact that when we bring a new child home from the hospital, the main preoccupation of any new parents is to protect that child from any harm, real or imagined. I have to say that for the first number of weeks I was a little nuts. There was no question that my daughter was my pride and my joy and any thought that she might come into harm's way ripped my heart out.
That is why, as a new member of Parliament who was not here for the last debate, I cannot believe that the previous government never considered the effects that this decision might have on our nation's children. In its haste to push the issue through, the previous government forgot to consider the impact that this change might have on our children. There was no study done. There were no meetings held. No experts were called as far our children and the rights of children were concerned.
I do not mind if hon. members call me a paranoid new father, but I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to the most vulnerable and the most valuable citizens to at least consider what is in their best interests. There has to be a collective desire. Where is our collective desire to ask the questions that need to be asked? Other countries have done so. Why cannot we?
I would ask my fellow parliamentarians, my colleagues who are also parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, to join with me and ponder why we do not have the time to consider our children. I am not asking for a divisive debate. I am not asking for long and drawn-out consideration. I am simply asking for a chance for our children to be represented in the discussion. It was missed the last time this issue was brought to the House for debate. We have to rectify that by opening up this issue, like France did, and examining the impact that this change may have on future generations.
In the same way that my heart is dedicated to ensuring that my child is protected, our collective heart should be set on ensuring that our nation's children are given a voice in this debate.