Madam Speaker, I must inform the House that it is a bit of a surprise for me to be speaking tonight. I was going to present my observations and views on this very important subject a little later in the month, but I have been asked to speak tonight. For those who may think that we have a party policy of vetting speeches, I can assure hon. members that is not quite correct. I will be speaking from the heart as I normally do in these situations. Since I am somewhat unprepared, I hope to structure my thoughts in such a manner that it makes some sense and I hope we can have a good dialogue.
I honestly agree with the approach taken in this important debate by all the speakers before me and hopefully the speakers after. All members of the House are conducting themselves in a respectful manner. If there has been no other subject debated in the House over the past two decades, this subject demands and deserves the respect of all Canadians and all parliamentarians. This is far too important an issue for anyone to make it into a political football. We have to speak our beliefs. We have to speak from our hearts. We have to speak to the issue at hand and some of the approaches that we have seen taken by the government.
I am disappointed in the approach the government has taken. I believe the government is abdicating its moral responsibility to speak to the issue from a moral and a personal standpoint. I believe that the government is hiding behind the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is something to be ashamed of or something to be stricken from the Canadian Constitution or the Canadian mindset. I believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; however, I do not believe that anyone should hide behind it as an excuse to bring down legislation. I think that is exactly what is happening in this case.
We have a number of examples. Hansard records that a number of people from across the House have spoken to this issue in years past. There are comments on record from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Both have stated without equivocation that they would support the traditional definition of marriage.
What has changed in the years since they made those statements? Have they had a change of heart? Have they come to see the light? Have they been persuaded by someone else's compelling argument that they should change their point of view? I see no evidence of that whatsoever. What I see is the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and many other hon. members stating, “We have in effect no choice. Our hands are tied. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms dictates that we must do this. The Supreme Court has ruled that we must do that”.
That is reprehensible. I have a great deal of respect for all of the members in the House. I see one hon. member across the floor who has been an eloquent speaker advocating the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry, and advocating the proper development of his belief that same sex marriage is something that should not only be accepted within Canadian standards, but also be promoted.
I have a lot of respect for a member like that because he is speaking from his heart for what he believes are his values. While I might disagree with the hon. member, I cannot help but respect his point of view, and I will respect his point of view. What I will not respect is any member in the House who stands and says, “We have no choice. Our hands are tied”, to give an implication to Canadians that the member does not really believe in this but he or she cannot do anything about it. That is disingenuous at best and I have no respect for members opposite who take that approach.
Let us talk about the charter. Let us talk about legalities. Let us talk about human rights. The government is stating that it must take this course of action, that it must introduce this legislation because the charter states that it must.
We all know the story. We know the four questions that were given to the Supreme Court for its consideration. This was the first step in the government's master plan for its members to abdicate their responsibilities as parliamentarians to turn the question over to the Supreme Court. They hoped the court would rule accordingly, in their view, to further hamstring the government and to state unequivocally that they must bring down this legislation.
There was one slight problem, one little bump in the road. That was question number four. The Supreme Court did not rule on the final question, whether or not the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional. That assembly, that august body of law makers--I should not say law makers because too many people tend to think that the Supreme Court makes the laws. It does not. No judge does. The court interprets and administers. Parliamentarians make the law.
The first problem was that the government decided to turn this entire question over to the Supreme Court. Much to its surprise, question number four came back from the Supreme Court. The court said that it would not rule on whether or not the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional. It left it for parliamentarians to decide. That might be the first hint that the government was off track, yet even though the Supreme Court ruled as it did on that question, the government still refuses to admit that this body should have been the body to determine the question of definition of marriage.
The Supreme Court also said a couple of other things. It said it is constitutionally correct, that we cannot rule against same sex marriages and that would be a constitutional provision. One could probably interpret by consequence that the traditional definition of marriage would be unconstitutional, but the court did not rule that.
My point is that there is room for honest and reasonable debate. I believe there is room for some interpretation not only of the Supreme Court's ruling but of the charter. We have heard from many speakers before me that other international bodies made decisions. I think it was the Doha resolution which stated that marriage is not a human right. Some may disagree with that, but if it was a human right, then as many speakers before me have stated, there would be countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands and others that would be viewed perhaps as human rights violators. I do not think that was the intent of any charter or any discussion concerning human rights. I do not think that those countries should be considered violators of human rights.
What we have here is a situation where we have to determine what is right and reasonable, legally, constitutionally and morally. I firmly believe that the approach taken by the Conservative Party of Canada addresses all of those issues in a manner with which obviously not all Canadians, but most Canadians would be happy.
I firmly believe that all Canadians should receive the same benefits in terms of equality when it comes to things like benefits and privileges. We have brought forward a compromise. The moderate position we have taken is to suggest that while we support the traditional definition of marriage, all the ancillary benefits and privileges that go with marriage should be afforded to same sex couples. Same sex couple should not be penalized. Survivor benefits and pension benefits should be given to same sex couples who choose to live together and spend their lives together in a loving and caring relationship.
What we are suggesting, however, is that this could be accommodated in forms of civil unions or other relationships such as those that are protected by law. The benefits and privileges of those individuals are protected by law, but not under the definition of marriage.
I know this is difficult for many members to appreciate and to understand. As a member opposite pointed out very eloquently on several occasions, to him and his partner marriage is something they feel strongly about. They want to be considered in the definition of law to be married.
I have to tell the House where I am coming from and how I was brought up. To me marriage is a religious ceremony. Marriage is, has been and always will be a religious act. I was married in a church. I believe that all married couples that I know at least feel strongly about the sanctity of marriage and the ability to swear their vows to their loved ones in a church.
While we talk about civil marriage, the opponents of our position and the proponents of same sex marriage say that this will not affect religious marriage because it is civil marriage.
To me marriage is a religious act. That is just my feeling. To me it is a very personal, a very heartfelt, and a very moral approach that I take to this equation. To me marriage and religion go hand in hand. For those who do not agree with that position, I respect their opinion, but I cannot agree with it.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.