Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-38 and to be part of this historical debate.
This bill, which threatens to change the traditional definition of marriage, has sparked an overwhelming response in my riding. Without a doubt it has been the single most important issue that has come up in my riding during the 12 years that I have represented the Peace River constituency.
Peace River constituents feel passionately about this issue. Of the hundreds of letters and calls that I have received from constituents on this bill, over 96% have been against changing the definition of marriage. As well, over 450 constituents have signed petitions calling on the government to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. Every day more people come forward to express their outrage that changes to the definition of marriage are even being contemplated.
Peace River constituents are not opposed to equal rights. In fact, the majority support the legal extension of rights and benefits to same sex couples. However, most are opposed to changing the historical term “marriage” to include these unions. Many have strongly held religious views and are extremely worried that their long-held beliefs are being threatened by Bill C-38. I do not think these views are limited to my riding; I believe they are shared by a majority of Canadians.
The debate is about basic social values in our country. I, along with many Canadians, support the traditional definition of marriage as being a union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others as expressed in our traditional common law. This common law has been developing for centuries in our country and before that, in the modern western world for several thousands of years. This definition has served society very well and has stood the test of time. It has been the fundamental cornerstone of our society, the bedrock of our society. My question is, why do we need to change it?
In my view, MPs opposing this bill should not have to defend what has been historically accepted. It should be the responsibility of those who want to overturn such a fundamental social institution to prove that it is absolutely necessary, that no other compromise could be expected to respect the rights of same sex couples while still preserving one of the cornerstones of our society and its many cultures. So far, in my view, the government has failed to do that.
One serious concern I have with the bill is that it does not provide protection for religious freedom in this country. There has been no specific statutory protection for religious freedom in areas falling under federal jurisdiction. This needs to be addressed and included in the legislation.
The preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we often hear it referred to from the other side of the House, states that “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” Many believe that the acknowledgement of God and the values that flow from a spiritual conception of law and morality is also a founding principle of Canada. Therefore it should be recognized and applied to the realities of modern life, including marriage.
The Supreme Court of Canada has never indicated in any ruling that the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional. To the contrary, in many cases the court has supported the definition. For example, in the Egan decision on marriage, former Supreme Court Justice La Forest addressed the definition directly when he stated:
Marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of long-standing philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'être transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.
Another example can be cited in the Halpern decision. In that case the Attorney General of Canada submitted evidence to support the traditional definition of marriage. His factum read:
Marriage has always been understood as a special kind of monogamous opposite-sex union, with spiritual, social, economic and contractual dimensions, for the purposes of uniting the opposite sexes, encouraging the birth and raising of children of the marriage, and companionship.
The decision we make on this legislation as a Parliament will have a profound impact on the country and the rights and freedoms that we so cherish. In 1999, which is not that long ago, only six years, I was in the chamber when the Liberal government pledged to use all necessary means to defend marriage. How quickly things change. Now it has made a complete U-turn and argues that the definition is unconstitutional. What will be next?
About one year ago Australia was facing the same crossroads with regard to marriage laws. The government there took a completely different approach than this Liberal government is taking. Despite pressure from those in favour of legalizing same sex marriage, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he was going to push to define traditional marriage in law and prohibit same sex marriage in order to protect, as he put it, “a fundamental bedrock institution of our society which has contributed massively to our stability and to our success”.
In Australia the legislation passed, with the support of the official opposition, defining marriage as only the union of a man and a woman. In contrast, this Liberal government has decided to go down a different road which I cannot support. I will be voting against Bill C-38 in its current form. I hope all members of Parliament will think very carefully about what is at stake before they vote. Our collective decision may have very serious implications for future generations.
Should this legislation pass without amendments, we will redefine marriage in a way that most Canadians do not want in order to address equality rights. There is a much more reasonable approach that we should choose in order to address this issue. I will not be supporting Bill C-38 in its current form unless it is severely amended.