Madam Speaker, marriage is a time honoured institution that has stood the test of time and is one of the key foundations on which our society has been built. For thousands of years, marriage has been recognized as the union of one man and one woman. Since Confederation, marriage in Canadian law has been defined as the voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I believe that this definition of marriage has served society well and should be retained.
Since I was first elected here in 1993, Parliament has passed legislation to provide benefits formerly available only to heterosexual marriage spouses to common law partnerships and same sex couples. These initiatives were designed to bring equality into the system and we were assured time and again by the Liberal government that these changes would not affect the definition of marriage.
Canadian Alliance MPs were concerned that our constituents wanted more assurances that there would not be a change, so in June 1999, as my colleague just referred to, we proposed a motion that said:
That, in the opinion of the House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others and that Parliament will take all necessary steps...to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.
Liberal MPs, cabinet ministers, the prime minister of the day, the current Prime Minister and the former justice minister, who today is the Deputy Prime Minister, all voted to reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage and to take all necessary steps to preserve that definition.
Here is what the Deputy Prime Minister, the only Liberal serving in Alberta in Edmonton at the time and right now, had to say about the government's intentions, “Let me state for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or legislating same sex marriages”. She went on to confirm her support when she said:
I support the motion for maintaining the clear legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
I fundamentally do not believe that it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate the equality issues around same sex partners which now face us as Canadians.
With the full support of the current Prime Minister and the key players on the government frontbench, the motion passed overwhelmingly: 215 to 55.
In September 2003 we proposed a motion to reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, just four years after the first time. This time the Liberals did an about face and the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister voted against reaffirming the traditional definition of marriage. What a flip-flop. When they do not dither, they flip-flop.
If Canadians cannot trust the Prime Minister's word on this, how can they be expected to trust his word on anything?
Conservatives believe that the vast majority of Canadians believe that marriage is a fundamental distinct institution, but that same sex couples can have equivalent rights and benefits.
The Leader of the Opposition, my leader, has tabled reasonable and thoughtful amendments to the bill. We believe the law should continue to recognize the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. We would propose that other forms of union, however structured by appropriate provincial legislation, whether they are called registered partnerships, domestic partnerships, civil unions or whatever, should be entitled to the same legal rights, privileges and obligations as marriage. Where there are issues affecting rights and benefits within the federal domain, our party would ensure that for all federal purposes those Canadians living in other forms of union would be recognized as having equal rights and benefits under the law.
We believe this is what most Canadians want. Recent public polls, and apparently even polls that the Liberals themselves have taken, show that nationally two out of every three Canadians are opposed to changing the definition of marriage.
The issue of same sex marriage may have divided some Canadians, but not in my constituency of Wetaskiwin where there is overwhelming support for the traditional definition of marriage. I did a survey and I received overwhelming support for the traditional definition.
This is what is said by some of the hundreds of letters I received on the subject. These are letters from my constituents. One resident from the town of Calmar, who feels the definition is critically important to the health of our society, said, “I hate to think what will happen to our society if same sex marriage is allowed. “What a disaster”, this person writes.
From Wetaskiwin, other constituents voice their opinions:
Marriage is an institution with deep religious, social and cultural significance. I want it to remain as a relationship between a man and a woman. History proves that when the traditional family unit is strong, a nation prospers.
I am not opposed to recognizing contractual relationships between two men and two women, which ensures them the same legal benefits as married couples. However, such a contract should not be called marriage.
Another man from Wetaskiwin wrote:
Marriage is a unique institution and it is not equal to any other form of relationship due to its status and character. Same sex unions should have their own special status and unique character under the law as heterosexual marriages are currently defined by our constitution...
Another person from Ponoka wrote, “I am not opposed to a civil union for homosexuals, but churches should not be forced to marry them and they will be if this law is passed”.
A couple from the historic town of Rocky Mountain House wrote:
We seek the preservation of the current definition of marriage. Rights for all individuals in our society are already protected by existing legislation. Any further protection can easily be provided without any need to attempt to change the definition of marriage”.
Canadians want to have a say on legislation and we were hopeful when we learned that the Prime Minister promised to expand the mandate of the legislative committee studying Bill C-38, but there is a wrinkle. There is always a wrinkle when we are dealing with the Liberals. As usual, the promise is not all it is made out to be. I think that is something that the NDP is rapidly learning. So far the legislative committee does not have the authority to hear anything but technical evidence. According to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, special legislative committees can hear witnesses only on technical matters and, as such, the committee itself has no jurisdiction to change its mandate.
I agree with my colleague from Provencher that the Liberal decision to refer Bill C-38 to such a legislative committee is part of a broader Liberal pattern to ignore the views of Canadians on the legislation.
The Liberals do not want Canadians to know that their government cannot adequately protect religious freedoms in federal legislation. It is troubling that the Liberal bill provides little in the way of assurances that religious freedoms will be protected if the legal definition of marriage is changed. It is bound to be challenged. We already saw some precedents just last week in a court decision when a judge said that the freedom of religion was not absolute.
The Liberals try to assure the public that they will protect religious freedoms, but in reality, the solemnization of marriage is a provincial responsibility. Bill C-38 does not do what the government is promising Canadians it will do.
The problem is the Supreme Court has already ruled that this clause is beyond the federal government's authority because provinces are responsible for performing marriage ceremonies. There is only one clause that protects and it is not a good one. They are not provided any specific statutory protection of religious freedom in the areas of their own jurisdiction.
I know my time is running short and I want to get two more quotes in.
This quote is from Lang Michener and is a legal opinion. It states:
There is little doubt that, if passed, Bill C-38 will be used by provincial governments and others to override the rights of conscience and religion of ordinary Canadians. Public officials will in all likelihood lose their employment simply because of their conscientious convictions. It is our view that your constituents, including religious groups and the members of religious groups, will face expensive and ruinous lawsuits.
I would like to quote a Catholic organization leaflet that I saw the other day which sums this up nicely. It states:
As an institution, marriage has an enormous significance, and has existed for thousands of years. The word we use for this institution--marriage--is full of history, meaning and symbolism, and should be kept for this unique reality.
I oppose this bill at every stage.