Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver Centre.
Bill C-38 has placed before Canadians an issue that is complex for some and for others it is incredibly simple. It is the ability of two people to commit to each other in marriage that is recognized by the state. Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to speak with many people across Canada and in my constituency of Burlington about the issues that Bill C-38 raises. I have read their letters and their emails. I have listened to the comments that they have made to me.
In the last election this issue was before us at every single one of the debates and there were nine. Without a doubt, some people do not like this legislation and yet others think of it as a logical extension of rights to a group of citizens who have for too long been denied equality. In many ways this debate reflects others that have taken place in this chamber, debates that extended the right of women to vote and to take their place in this chamber.
Today in eight provinces and one territory the law on civil marriage is that two people of the same gender or of opposite genders can marry. In each of these jurisdictions the courts have ruled that it is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to deny same sex couples access to marriage in order to create a civil union and the Government of Canada agrees with that.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one of the defining elements of Canadian society. Section 15 of the charter came into force 20 years ago. The inclusion of equality rights in the supreme law of our country was a significant milestone, one that put Canada at the forefront of nations committed to safeguarding human rights and protecting all our citizens' essential dignity.
Section 2 of the charter ensures the freedom for officials of religious institutions to perform marriages only in accordance with their religious beliefs. In supporting Bill C-38 I am fulfilling my legal and constitutional obligations to defend the rights of all Canadians. As I mentioned, section 2 protects religious freedoms as does this bill and that was important to me and to many Canadians. I will continue to defend the right of religious organizations to marry only those who pass their religion standard to qualify for marriage.
Over the past months I have been particularly impressed by the many constituents who have taken the time to ensure that their views were heard. It is always easier for people to call when they disagree with a policy and I have certainly heard from those people, especially when hate filled literature appeared at the doorstep. While I have heard from many constituents who disagree with the bill, I have been overwhelmed with messages of support for the bill from parents, grandparents, younger people, straight people and those who were not. I have been approached by people of faith, by Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Jews and members of the United Church.
Their message was that the government must do what is right for our community and our country. They believe their God would not want discrimination. They believe in equality and the people making their choice should be respected and accepted as equal before the law. They believe that Bill C-38 is a logical expression of our commitment as Canadians to equal treatment of all individuals as enshrined by the charter.
I would like to read from some of the messages that particularly touched me. This one is from the mother of two children. She said:
My family is strong. My Canada is accepting and does not permit or encourage hate-mongering. My Canada is one of tolerance, that welcomes everyone, that supports peace and harmony both at home and abroad.
I heard from other people who told me that they believe that the extension of marriage to same sex couples is good for Canadian society and children to the extent that stable, committed, loving couples and families are the foundation of strong communities and the ideal environment for raising children. We all benefit by including same sex couples among those who can choose the rights and responsibilities of marriage.
I heard from a minister of a church who said to me that marriage, as opposed to being a union of one man and one women, is instead an honouring of those who are engaged in lifelong, faithful, committed, faith filled relationships regardless of a couple's sexuality. He went on to thank me for showing strong leadership in the riding and across the country as we struggle with this issue.
I heard from constituents who told me that they are proud to live in a country that allows everyone to marry, that ensures that all forms of ignorance, prejudice and hate must be fought and fought hard. I heard from someone who said to me that they are sure that this bill must be supported because they believe that anything that promotes supportive and committed relationships between partners is a good thing.
I heard from people who got pamphlets on their doorstep telling them to call me and say they disagreed. They called me to say they agree. “I am very proud and thankful”, one woman wrote, “to have an MP who takes a stand for what they believe in and, most importantly, what I believe in”.
I heard from constituents who pointed out that they had been married for 35 years, have lived in my constituency for 10 years, are 57 and 58 years old. They wanted to write to thank me for supporting the same sex bill.
I heard from somebody who pointed out, “We elect our MPs. We entrust our MPs to protect minority rights, not simply to bow to the majority's sometimes uninformed and intolerant views. A society has never thrived by denying specific groups the rights that are granted to others. A healthy Canada will continue to move forward, instead of clinging to outdated and meaningless definitions”.
I heard from somebody who goes to the same church that I do, who wrote, “What would Jesus say if He was standing before two gay people? He would say 'I created you and I bless you, so live your lives with peace and love'. And thank you for being on this issue”.
I heard from others who were encouraged again by Catholic bishops to write and say that they disagreed. They wrote to say, “I believe in the separation of church and state. I agree with same sex legislation and that supporting it is the right choice. I civilly agree with the legislation and back it 100% in my belief that the rights of all concerned are being taken care of”.
These letters really did affect me as I read them. They reminded me of why we have the honour of being members of Parliament. We can come to a place like this, we can debate these issues passionately, but we can be respected and we can be treated as equals, as men and women, as people who care about issues deeply.
Bill C-38 represents all that we believe in as Canadians, that we believe in equality for everyone. It is a strong symbol of the core values that many Canadians, and I hope all members of this House, hold dear: equality, dignity, tolerance and respect for others.
Passing Bill C-38 will ensure that all Canadians can take their place in the rich tapestry that makes our country so great, that allows each of us to be the people who we are. It will allow people who wish to marry someone of the opposite sex to continue to do that. It will allow people who wish to have a same sex marriage respected by the government and in some cases by their church.
Bill C-38 is an important piece of legislation. I am proud to be able to stand in this House and support this bill on behalf of all my constituents.