Madam Speaker, recently I had an opportunity to give a tour of this place to a group of visiting constituents. They marvelled at the architecture and the history in the surrounding area. What is truly amazing is how the historical character is so well integrated with new technology.
Over the years we have amended the Standings Orders to improve the efficiency of our procedures, while retaining the traditions that form the basis of our democracy. We have preserved and strengthened our foundation, while keeping pace with 21st century developments.
Marriage is also a time honoured institution that has stood the test of time and is one of the key foundations on which our society is 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 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 married 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 our constituents wanted assurances, so in June 1999 we proposed a motion that said:
That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain a 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 MP after Liberal MP, cabinet minister after cabinet minister, including the former prime minister Jean Chrétien and the current Prime Minister, the former justice minister and current Deputy Prime Minister, voted to reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage.
Here is what the Deputy Prime Minister said on that day:
Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages.
She also went on to say:
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.
She also said:
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 key players on the government frontbench, I am pleased to say that the motion passed 215 to 55, and there I thought the issue would end.
In September 2003, however, we proposed a motion to reaffirm that marriage was and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. This time the Liberals did an about face and the Prime Minister and his deputy voted against reaffirming the traditional definition of marriage.
It appears that when the Prime Minister and his Deputy Prime Minister are not dithering, that they are flip-flopping. If Canadians cannot trust the Prime Minister's word on this, I submit that they have every right to be unable to trust him 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 or benefits. The leader of the official opposition has tabled reasonable and thoughtful amendments to the bill.
We believe that 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. At the same time, we would propose that other forms of union, however structured, by appropriate provincial legislation, whether 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 these Canadians living in other forms of unions would be recognized as having equal rights and benefits under federal law as well.
We believe that is what most Canadians want.
Recent public opinion polls, and apparently even Liberal polls, show that nationally two out of every three Canadians is opposed to changing the definition of marriage.
The issue of same sex marriage has divided many Canadians but not in my constituency where there is overwhelming support for the traditional definition of marriage. The following is what some of them have had to say in the hundreds of letters that I have received on this subject.
One resident from the town of Lacombe, who was concerned that “our nation was being steered in the wrong direction”, said:
Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. This definition was not created by the courts or by Parliament. The union of a man and woman has served as the foundation of societies throughout time.
From Wetaskiwin, another constituent writes:
Same sex marriage has been represented by the government and the media as a human rights issue. It is not a matter of rights; it is a matter of definition and the important purposes marriage serves in society. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
A husband and wife from Gwynne wrote:
Marriage between a man and a woman is a unique relationship that simply cannot be replicated by any other relationship.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, a Winfield man wrote:
Like those in the trenches of old, we do not find it becomes us to build a nation by appealing to our rights. We are instead instructed by the common good. We confess to being “born” with tendencies and primal urges that would put individual above order. But it is character not legislation that helps us rise above them.
This legislation is not just the assertion of a new right. It is potentially the reduction of an older one.
It is troubling that this Liberal bill provides little in the way of assurances that religious freedoms will be protected if the legal definition of marriage is changed.
The Liberals keep talking about how they are protecting religious freedoms but the reality is that the solemnization of marriage is a provincial responsibility, so Bill C-38 does not do what they say it will do. What they do not want Canadians to know, apparently, is that the government cannot adequately protect religious freedoms in federal legislation.
There is only one clause in the bill that states that religious officials will not be forced to solemnize same sex marriages. The problem is that the Supreme Court has already ruled that this clause is beyond the federal government's authority because provinces are responsible for performing marriage ceremonies. It has not provided any specific statutory protection of religious freedoms in the areas of its own jurisdiction.
Our party believes that religious institutions need to be explicitly protected in such areas as charitable tax status. In addition, public officials who, for religious reasons, feel they cannot perform same sex marriages must also be explicitly protected from reprisal if they refuse to perform such marriages.
I recently came across a leaflet prepared by the Catholic Organization for Life and the Family. I think it has pretty much been summed up in their leaflet, which states:
As an institution, marriage has 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 could not agree more, which is why I have always been a strong supporter of the traditional definition of marriage. I will continue to vote against any legislation to change it, including Bill C-38 as it now stands.