That this House call on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to begin the debate on today's motion. As the sponsor of the motion, I will like to take a few moments to explain to the House why the government is moving forward with today's motion and the government's position with respect to it.
Some members may ask why the House needs to be consulted on this issue, After all, less than two years ago, this issue was debated and voted on in this House, in the form of Bill .
At that time, a majority of the members decided to approve a law to define marriage for civil purposes as the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others. That decision by the House had the effect of replacing the traditional definition of marriage as being the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. In short, Parliament decided that the definition of marriage should include same sex couples.
The debate surrounding Bill generated a significant amount of controversy. It was a divisive debate both in the House and among Canadians as a whole. That debate continues on this issue within Canadian society.
Since marriage is an essential foundation of our society, it is important that a fully democratic decision be taken by the House of Commons whether the institution of marriage should be changed. Given the importance of marriage in our society and its importance to Canadians, we made a commitment in the last election to ask parliamentarians whether they wished to revisit this issue. Our commitment stated:
A Conservative government will hold a truly free vote on the definition of marriage in the next session of Parliament. If the resolution is passed, the government will introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage while respecting existing same-sex marriages.
By presenting today's motion for a debate and a vote in the House, the government is fulfilling the commitment we made to Canadians in the last election.
Let me turn to the meaning of today's motion and its implications.
The motion itself will not change the definition of marriage. Rather, the motion asks members whether they want to reopen the debate on the definition of marriage. If the House decides to adopt this motion, the government will introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage for civil purposes. In other words, the government will present to the House a bill defining marriage as the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. It would then be up to the House to debate such a bill and to vote on whether the bill should be enacted in July.
Therefore, those who argue that the traditional definition of marriage is an essential social institution that ought to be restored and protected should vote in favour of this motion. Similarly, members who believe that there are other ways to recognize same sex unions without altering the principle tenets of one's beliefs should vote for the motion as well.
Speaking personally, I support the institution of marriage as it has been comprised for centuries in our society. It is one of the basic institutions of our society and is the foundation upon which we have built our culture. This is the position I took in the previous Parliament during the debate on Bill and it is the position I continue to hold.
While I support protecting the rights of minorities that does not mean we should alter the institution of marriage which has worked well and has been an essential part of our society for so many years. I will therefore be voting in favour of the motion as a means to restore the traditional definition of marriage.
Although we are debating a government motion, I point out that the government has indicated that members can vote according to their conscience. Given the deeply held views that members have on both sides of the debate, the government believes it should be up to the House to decide in a truly free vote on whether we should initiate legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage.
The vote on today's motion will be a truly free vote for all members of the government's caucus, including ministers of the Crown. Unlike the previous government, our cabinet will not be whipped into voting one way or the other.
Speaking as the , I am proud to be a member of a government that believes issues which touch on deeply felt personal beliefs should be decided by a truly free vote.
Given that members on both sides of the debate hold deeply felt personal views on this subject, we are asking members to reflect on their views and those of their constituents before deciding how to vote. This is ultimately a decision of the members of the House to decide on their own.
To conclude, the government looks forward to hearing the views of members on this issue and we hope that this will be a respectful debate. Although there are strongly held views on both sides of the debate, each member's point of view is valid and ought to be heard.
I therefore encourage all members to participate in the debate in this spirit. The government looks forward to receiving the House's decision on this matter.
Mr. Speaker, like the hon. House leader, I had the opportunity and privilege of participating in the debate on the question of the adoption of the law permitting marriage of same sex couples last year.
I say the privilege because I was proud to participate in that debate. It was a serious debate, as the hon. House leader has suggested. While it was an emotional debate, members treated one another with respect, even those who disagreed with one another profoundly on religious grounds or in other ways. In many ways, the debate in the House last time was Parliament at its best.
I will always remember, for example, how the hon. member for put it, as repeated today by the hon. member for : “—the religion of some should not become the law for others”.
However, as I listened to the House leader today, I respectfully suggest to the House leader that this motion is different. This is an underhanded political manoeuvre. Is the House leader proud of the headline of the Globe and Mail editorial this morning? “'s shoddy motion” is what the Globe and Mail editorial called what we are being asked to debate today in this House.
The government does not even want a real debate. It is not giving enough time. It has introduced the idea of civil unions, which as it knows is exclusively a provincial matter. It is a smokescreen. It says it is not trying to re-establish the very inequality that was struck down by our courts.
As the member for has pointed out, this is purely a procedural motion. It is a debate about whether ultimately we should have a debate. If the government wanted to take this matter seriously, it would have introduced legislation, but it knows the composition of this House and it knows such legislation would never be passed by this House.
Instead, it resorted to a manoeuvre that takes us nowhere. It is not designed to take us anywhere. It is designed to divide the House, to divide the members of the House, and divide the Canadian population on an issue that has been settled. It is designed to divide our nation on an issue that a majority of Canadians wish to move on from.
Everyone in the House knows that the courts have upheld this across the country, including the Supreme Court of Canada, eight provinces and territories. I will not name them, but I respectfully disagree with the hon. House leader. It is not true that the Supreme Court of Canada did not rule on this matter. The Supreme Court of Canada specifically said in its judgment that it would not, in any way, pronounce on the matter in a way that would overrule the findings of the lower courts, and those findings were conclusively in favour of overturning the prohibition against same sex marriage, as everybody knows.
I praise the government for saying it will not use the notwithstanding clause. I say to the hon. House leader that I hope that is an undertaking that the government is making, whether it is in opposition or in the future at any time, that it would never introduce such a bill by using this notwithstanding clause. However, without the notwithstanding clause, as everyone has pointed out, this same sex debate we are having today is, in the words of the columnists and the editorial writers such as Jeffrey Simpson of The Globe and Mail, “a meaningless charade”.
However, that said, let us take up the challenge. Let us remind ourselves of why we voted as we did the last time. Let us remind ourselves of our charter. Let us remind ourselves of the debates that we had in this House when we first introduced changes to the Criminal Code to protect gay and lesbian couples from being attacked on our streets, when we introduced the human rights code changes which ensured there would not be discrimination, and when we went on to ensure that people could get their pension rights and be treated equally if they had the same status as heterosexual couples that had civil unions.
What we saw throughout the country and through this House was a movement. We saw an evolving sense of our human rights and it came from our constituents as well, not just gay and lesbian constituents but from straight constituents, from all races and all religions. They came to us and came to a conclusion that society was enriched ultimately by treating all citizens equally.
I remember years ago learning that a certain newspaper in Toronto, which I would not describe as a left-wing newspaper, had a policy that it would pay equal amounts to people who had same sex unions because it wanted to attract the best possible employees.
This is not just about equality. This is about creating a society which will be a richer society when everybody can participate in it and feel equal in it.
Yesterday, the avoided answering the question of the hon. member for , who wanted to know whether he thought that our society or the institution of marriage had suffered from the legislation permitting same sex marriage. It is the same question just asked by our colleague in the NDP.
I would like to suggest that the and his hon. members, who do not seem to understand the realities of the modern world in which we live, should go and take part in the gay pride parade in my city of Toronto, or elsewhere in the country.
To their great surprise, they would find grandmothers and children of all ethnic groups and representatives of multicultural organizations from all over participating enthusiastically. Why do they do this? They are taking part in something that celebrates our humanity, tolerance, respect for other people and ability to understand one another.
Some members of this House think that same sex marriage spells the end of society as we know it, that it shakes society to its core. I say to these hon. members that they should ask the Canadians who take their children to gay pride parades and deliberately put them in contact with this modern reality what they think of this celebration of our common humanity.
I have been a parliamentarian for many years and have followed all the debates about recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians, including amendments to the Criminal Code, to the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to Bill , which gave equal rights to common-law spouses and entitled them to pensions. Some participants in these debates painted the most apocalyptic scenarios for our society, our children and the institution of marriage.
Far removed from all dogma, I believe personally that we should follow this debate with humanity and compassion, animated by a spirit of openness, inclusion and respect and with tremendous confidence in humanity’s ability to make changes to society out of deep respect for our differences. We should ponder the lessons of history. The same fears, the same dire scenarios were conjured up when interracial marriages were allowed in the United States or the Divorce Act was passed in Canada not so very long ago. We all remember that.
Our country’s history clearly shows that in the face of profound sociological change, Parliament has often crystallized the irreversible changes already seen in society, but has never jumped the gun. Parliament has always been able to adapt to deep-seated new movements in our society.
I will therefore in all humility as a parliamentarian and legislator be guided by the wisdom, tolerance and confidence expressed by our forefathers and foremothers who said yes to social progress and no to all the apocalyptic scenarios conjured up. I can only humble encourage all my parliamentary colleagues to do the same and recognize not only this reality but also the fact that Canadians accept it.
Times have changed and we must move on. The House has moved on and the country has moved on. Under the present law, religious institutions are protected while all others are included.
We join countries like the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and others. Let us think of South Africa and imagine the example this would send to a country like South Africa if we were to reverse ourselves on the fundamental principle of human rights. Why would this country, a beacon to others around the world on human rights, reverse itself and go backward in time? What kind of an example would that be to South Africa and dozens of other countries that are looking to us as an example?
Let us solemnly undertake in the House today that we have debated this issue and that we will move on. I respectfully ask the , his party and his colleagues in his caucus to promise this House and this country that this will be the last time, that this is not just a strategy for another election issue, that they will not inflict this agony on gay and lesbian Canadians, and that they will tell them that this will end and that our social cohesion will no longer be roiled by threats to the droits acquis once and for all.
A week ago Monday, this House voted on a motion about our country and we all spoke movingly about our country. We voted in that debate and at the end of that debate we voted to be inclusive.
I remember the hon. member for speaking with great emotion about how her identities as a Quebecker and a Canadian fit perfectly together.
Many others have spoken in the same vein saying that their identity as Quebeckers and their identity as Canadians are perfectly in harmony. We should ask ourselves whether after tomorrow's vote the gay and lesbian communities will be able to say the same? Will they say that their personal identity and their national identity are compatible and even complementary? Will they be proud to be both and proud to play a role in our society? If they feel anything less than that and less than their fellow citizens, I believe we will have failed our constituents, our country and future generations of Canadians who are asking us to continue to create this country as a place where we live with one another in respect and tolerance and show a light to the rest of the world which will enable them and us to move on to other issues of importance and move away from the traditional, I say hatreds, the traditional fears of the past. Let us move on from the past and let us move to the future in a way that is Canadian and in a way that is respectful to our charter and of our fellow citizens.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on the motion, although it is not really a pleasure.
It is quite unbelievable that we have been discussing these questions certainly since 1994 and even after a decision by the Supreme Court, after a vote in this House and after eight courts at various levels of jurisdiction, including of course the Supreme Court, have rendered their verdicts. It must be remembered that three appeal courts—British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario—and four other different courts in Canada have affirmed that the denial to gays and lesbians of free access to the institution of marriage constitutes a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; that it is incompatible with section 15, which provides for equal treatment for all.
It is not surprising that the Conservative government has chosen to reopen this debate. There is no doubt that Conservative members, as individuals, are respectable people and that they can even be quite endearing. Nevertheless, we know that, collectively, they are people who throughout their history, as long as they have been in this House, have practised an institutional policy of homophobia.
Homophobia does not consist solely in gay bashing or threatening gays. Homophobia is also the systematic and organized denial of rights to homosexuals. The Conservatives have always taken a hostile approach to gays and lesbians. I believe our fellow citizens should know that.
I do not say that someone is a homophobe if he or she is not in favour of access to marriage. I know people who are rather ill at ease with that.
Mr. James Moore: Bloc members, bloc members.
Mr. Réal Ménard: And I do not say that it is a matter of homophobia not to support that kind of marriage. However, the system has been tested nine times.
I am curious to see whether the will have the courage that he had when he was on the other side of the House. I think that he will because he is a courageous man, but I am curious to see which way he will vote tonight.
Allow me to recall all the votes that the Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance have recorded; all the votes that they cast to collectively deny rights in matters of labour relations, hate crimes, collective agreements or on the subject of surrogate mothers in connection with new reproductive technologies or again in terms of the Criminal Code. In a systematic manner, the Conservatives have told our fellow Canadians that they do not recognize persons of homosexual orientation as citizens. It is unbelievable. It is unbelievable that a political party could act in such a way in a democracy such as Canada.
In 1995, I tabled a motion calling on the government to take the necessary measures to legally recognize same sex spouses. All the Conservatives—who at that time were members of the Progressive Conservative party—voted against that motion.
On June 8, 1999, an hon. member, Eric Lowther, tabled a motion proposing:
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 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.
That was a second denial of the rights of gays and lesbians: 53 Reform members voted against the motion, as did 13 Conservative party members. At that time, they were two separate parties.
Third, in 2003, a motion by the current reiterated the debate in the same terms. It was the third denial of the right of gays and lesbians to civil institutions. That is clear.
Fourth, in 1995, Allan Rock tabled Bill C-41 to reform sentencing, specifically, section 718, which recognizes certain aggravating circumstances when crimes are committed. The gay community mobilized in favour of anti-hate, anti-racist legislation. The government wanted to include beating someone up because of their sexual orientation as an aggravating circumstance in the Criminal Code. They voted against it. Can you imagine that? We were in a situation where people were being beaten up. In Ottawa, some people had been thrown off a bridge. Nevertheless the Conservatives voted against the addition to the Criminal Code of provisions respecting hate crimes, and they voted unanimously.
In 1996, further to a court decision, moreover, Bill C-33, amending the Canadian Human Rights Act, proposed the addition of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The Conservatives did not want sexual orientation to be recognized as a prohibited ground of discrimination. We were a long way from the question of marriage.
I repeat, every time they have had the opportunity, the Conservatives, almost unanimously, have behaved like institutional homophobes. This alone makes them quite unfit and unworthy of forming a respectable government respected by our fellow citizens.
The conservatives voted against the addition in collective agreements of rights for gays and lesbians. In 68 laws, they voted against the recognition of common-law spouses and therefore homosexual common-law spouses. They voted against the bill by our former colleague for Burnaby—Douglas, a riding now brilliantly represented by his NDP successor. They voted against the provisions concerning hate propaganda. Of course they voted against Bill almost unanimously.
So what message is it sending? What message does it send when a government says that, whatever the circumstances, whether we are talking about education, the Criminal Code, labour relations, emotional relations or hate propaganda, it will never respect the rights of one category of citizens? What they said is that the simple fact of feeling sexual desire that is different from that of the majority makes us less entitled. That is what the Conservatives have said throughout their history. That is what is quite incredible.
Imagine what that means for someone who is 14, 15 or 16 years old and discovers that he or she is homosexual. No later than last year, we were reminded that 30% of young people who are homosexual still put an end to their lives. They commit suicide. Is it not our responsibility as parliamentarians to do something about that? This is not about promoting conversion therapies. This is not about telling heterosexuals that they should undertake to become homosexuals. That is not what we are talking about. We are speaking to our homosexual citizens.
We can argue about whether it is hereditary or whether it is acquired behaviour. There is literature on this. Opinions may vary. One thing is sure, though, and that is that I will never have any respect for people who rise in the House and say that just because a man is gay or a woman is a lesbian, they do not have the same rights. That is the essence of the debate. When we are seated in Parliament, the only value that should motivate us is the right to equality.
There is no state religion in Canada, regardless of what people might say or think. It is not because people belong to a certain religion that they can deny the rights of other citizens. That was the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court.
The previous government made use of its prerogative under section 53 of the Supreme Court Act to ask the court to provide answers to certain questions.
The first question was whether marriage and particularly civil marriage as defined in clause 1 of Bill was a federal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court said yes. I respectfully admit to my hon. colleagues, of course, that a person does not need a doctorate in law to know that.
The next question was whether freedom of religion could give various religious denominations a right not to perform a religious marriage. The Supreme Court explained, with the supporting jurisprudence, that neither Bill nor the existing Charter of Rights and Freedoms obliged anyone, any member of the clergy, to perform a religious marriage, regardless of their religious denomination.
I would not want to live in a society where, because of my religious convictions, I was obliged to do things that are contrary to the tenets of my own faith. It is entirely reasonable, desirable and fortunate that the Supreme Court answered that the Charter or Bill would never oblige members of the clergy to perform marriages against their will. The Supreme Court said this, and obviously that had been confirmed by a number of expert witnesses.
We must remember that in 2002, the Standing Committee on Justice held hearings across Canada. We heard 467 witnesses. Obviously there were witnesses who had some expertise. It was explained to us, over and over again, that despite what was being said by the official opposition of that time and also by certain ministers, freedom of religion would never require that there be an obligation to perform marriages.
The Progressive Conservative Party has a record of bad faith. There is a desire to deny rights, and to sow the seeds of dissension and division. That is the purpose of the motion. Let us look at the dishonesty of the motion.
That this House call on the government to introduce legislation—
They have not yet introduced their legislation. They are asking for permission to introduce it.
—to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions—
Let us talk about civil unions. Eight provinces, including Quebec, have enacted various legislation that has recognized various types of unions between persons of the same sex. This may take the form of civil unions or registered partnerships, but all of the existing legislation has two characteristics. It is never a religious marriage. It is therefore not marriage. People sometimes told us that civil union is marriage. Civil union is close to marriage, in terms of the rights protected. Most of the provinces have granted the same rights in respect of inheritance, access to health care and pension rights. Granted, the provinces that have legislated in relation to this have given the same rights to common law spouses, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.
But can we understand why people want to get married? This is where what the Conservatives are saying is totally incoherent. If the institution of marriage is an institution that should be celebrated for heterosexuals, surely it should be celebrated for homosexuals. It is not true that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation. Otherwise, just like that, we would be saying that all of our fellow citizens who do not have children will be excluded and disqualified. There are people who want to get married, people who have been married for years and other people who will get married in the future, who will not have children. That is entirely their right. It takes nothing away from the legitimacy of their union.
I would say that parenting skills have nothing to do with sexual desire. That has been documented for a number of years. How can we think that the way that an individual decides to express himself or herself sexually could qualify him or her to be a good or bad parent? If that is the case, there would never be any homosexuals in our society. In my case, my parents were heterosexuals. I was reared in a heterosexual family and I have a very heterosexual twin brother, not polygamous, but very heterosexual.
Surely you will understand that homosexuality is not something that is transmitted within a family. One thing is certain, however, and I will say this again, I firmly believe that when we are sitting in Parliament, we may not get up and tell people that they have fewer rights because they are different sexually. That is what the Conservatives want to do. The reference in the motion to civil unions is not appropriate, because the federal government has no responsibility for that. It is under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments and there are eight provinces that have legislated in that regard.
Let us look at what it says a little further on in the motion. In order to get the support of other parties, it says that not only should the government introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions, which do not have anything to do with marriage and do not concern the federal government, it adds: “while respecting existing … marriages”. Forgive me for saying it, but it would be pretty unbelievable if anyone thought we had the power as legislators to say that.
Do you know how many people got married in Canada? In November, there were precisely 12,438 people who got married. Obviously we cannot tell them to end their union. The first principle is that a law is never retroactive. We cannot say that to the 12,438 people who got married. There are some in all the provinces, even in very conservative Alberta where 409 people got married. I do not think that there were many Conservatives invited to the weddings of those 409 people. So there are some in every province, and it is pretty dishonest and pretty misleading to include in a motion that someone even thinks that they are not going to undo the unions of people who are married.
I repeat, I think that it is not to the government’s credit to reopen the file on same sex marriage. In my opinion, once and for all, we must say that as parliamentarians we believe in the most complete equality among people.
Every time there is talk of making some social advances, I am sure that our elders will recall how some people behaved when the question of legalizing divorce came up. It used to be that getting divorced involved private legislative initiatives and was more a matter of Senate responsibility.
I am convinced that people will remember how the most conservative minds reacted when the subject of establishing a lottery system arose. I am convinced that people will remember how the most conservative elements in our society behaved when there was talk of the equality of women. Seventy-five years ago, women were not even recognized as legal persons. Women had no standing in court and could not run for office.
Yet, all these changes were made in the name of the ideals of tolerance, equality and generosity and we are all the better for them. In my opinion, the best thing that can happen in life is to fall in love because it is when we love that we desire to do things for our community. To deny individuals the right to be in love is quite shameful and I hope our citizens will remember that.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has put the following motion before the House:
That this House call on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages.
I am honoured to speak for the New Democratic Party in this debate. On a Saturday afternoon in September of this year, Chelsea United Church, just across the Ottawa River and up the road from Parliament Hill, was full. It was standing room only. Many people from this corner of the House from the NDP caucus were present. That afternoon we witnessed Scott Daly say to Éric Hébert:
You and I have travelled to so many places, seen so many things, experienced so many milestones together that is difficult to describe exactly what our journey together has come to mean to me. In all of our successes and failures, gains and losses, adventures and mishaps, all I know for certain is that wherever you are I belong beside you.
When I left Kamloops so many years ago I was alone in every sense of the word. You not only helped me find a place in which to be myself, you also expanded my horizon to include a different language, and different perspective, and a new family in which to find acceptance.
I promise you, in front of family, friends and God that I will rejoice with you in your successes, mourn with you in your failures, and persevere with you in your struggles. For your journey is my journey. I promise you that I will share my own dreams, my own fears and my own challenges with you. For my travels are your travels. You and I, we share this odyssey together.
I promise to respect who you are and to honour what you stand for, to be your strongest ally and your fairest critic, to embrace your foibles as well as your strengths, to remember each and every day that what we share is something very unique and special.
I cannot promise to love you more than I already do. I can only say this: if I am a good teacher, if I am a talented writer, if I have found any success in this life we share, it is because you have helped me find the best part of who I am.
I have always loved you. And I always will.
Éric then spoke to Scott in front of all those who had gathered:
When I think of our 17 years together and the promises that we made to each other, I know that we have, indeed, lived our love.
I know that God has blessed me with your presence. Our lives together have meaning and our hopes for the future are always brighter when we journey side by side.
What can I promise you now that you don't already know? What can I offer you now that isn't already yours?
Scott, I will do all I can to inspire you, the way you inspire me. I will surprise you from time to time, the way you do for me. I will comfort you when you need it most, as you always have with me. I will be joyful, the way you are, even when the circumstances make it difficult for us both. I will strive to see the world through your eyes, to laugh with your light heartedness, to savour your love and offer you mine every day. Since you bring out the best in me, I will continue to be a better person for you.
And while I may never be a perfect partner, I will always be happiest when I'm travelling with you on the road trip of our lives. The beauty of this road trip is that it doesn't have an end or a destination--it's just an incredible journey with each passing mile more beautiful than the last--and an unending fuel supply!
I stand before you, committed as ever, before God, our community, our family and friends, to tell you that I love you and promise to continue living that love in every way, every day, for as long as we walk this earth together.
In exactly the same way, on August 25, 2006, Laura Chapman and Anne Drummond and their family, friends and colleagues gathered in the rose garden at the arboretum at Queen Elizabeth Park on Little Mountain in Vancouver. At that time Anne said to Laura:
I take you, sweet Laura, to be my partner in life, love and adventure.
I will be at your side for all the risings and settings of the sun, for the days of fullness and through the barren times.
I will support your endeavours, listen to you, forgive you and laugh with you, and above all, I promise to be true and faithful to you and this wonderful love that we share.
Laura then spoke these words:
Dearest Anne, love is a miracle, love is a mystery. I take you to be my life partner in this dance of wonder. I will love you and delight in you. I will whisper to you each morning, dream with you each evening, celebrate your joys, kiss your tears and nurture our love with all my strength and passion.
Back in the summer of 2005 in a restaurant in Stanley Park, also in Vancouver, a lesbian couple from Baltimore, Maryland in the United States stood with a marriage commissioner and made promises to each other. This couple knew no one in Vancouver but had gone there to be married because that possibility did not exist for them back home. They asked two women who happened to be having lunch in the restaurant, also as it turns out visitors from the United States, to be their witnesses. The women agreed. The brief civil service took place in the garden. When the marriage commissioner pronounced them married and they kissed for the first time as married spouses, everyone in the restaurant stood and applauded. Total strangers, randomly selected, stood and applauded this couple's making solemn, joyous promises to each other. A line formed of restaurant patrons to congratulate these strangers, this newly married couple.
A table of folks from rural Alberta had taken photos and offered an email address so they could be delivered. An elderly woman, moving slowly with a cane, waited and gave them huge warm hugs and a blessing. The American witnesses were deeply moved. That such a scene was possible in a public place made them believe that Canada was in a very real sense the promised land.
I feel lucky to have been present when Scott and Éric were married. I am very moved by the eloquence and poetry of Anne and Laura's vows. I am also so deeply moved by the story of the marriage of the women from Baltimore in the restaurant garden and so proud of my citizens for their spontaneous outpouring of support.
For me, these promises, these stories are what this debate is all about. It is about gay and lesbian couples making promises to each other, promises on the one hand that are not unusual because they are the same as couples have made to each other in marriage for years and years. But they are promises that are also very special because gay and lesbian couples have had to fight for the exact same right to make them in public that our heterosexual brothers and sisters have.
They are promises that provide a firm foundation for life-affirming relationships. They provide a firm foundation for families. These promises make our communities stronger by expanding the circle of intimate, justice seeking, loving relationships. These promises give security, security to couples, security to the children of these partnerships, security to our families and our communities. These promises lead to serious legal obligations and responsibilities that are willingly and enthusiastically engaged.
Building relationships, founding families, expanding intimacy in the pursuit of justice and love, providing security, assuming responsibility: all these are foundations of a strong society, all values that contribute to a strong society, all defining aspects of the institution of marriage in our society.
Twelve thousand five hundred couples, 25,000 individuals, have made the same kind of commitment in Canada since marriage became possible for gay and lesbian couples. These marriages were performed by clergypersons and by secular marriage commissioners, all of whom were licensed to solemnize marriages by their provincial governments and given the civil authority to legally marry couples as defined now by the federal Civil Marriage Act.
These couples who chose to be married are not people who want to change the institution of marriage, but instead are people who only seek to be included in this institution, because they believe in the values that it represents and that it supports. They are people who have been raised in families and communities that hold marriage in high regard.
Thousands more in Canada have stood with these couples as members of wedding parties, best men and maids of honour, as members of congregations, as family members and as witnesses. In doing so, we have pledged our support for these couples. We have witnessed their love and commitment and pledged to honour and respect those relationships. We have agreed to be part of their families.
Marriage is stronger in Canada for these thousands of commitments by gay and lesbian couples and by their witnesses. Often we have left these marriage ceremonies inspired with new respect for this institution. In so many ways, gay and lesbian couples are true marriage evangelicals in Canada. They are the people fervently advocating for this institution, an institution that has faced many challenges in recent decades. I believe that gay and lesbian couples who marry have breathed new life into this venerable institution.
At a very fundamental level, the marriage law was about equality for gay and lesbian Canadians. It was about our basic human rights, whether we choose to be married or not. This fact was clearly recognized in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, even in quarters that have questions about the institution. It was about full citizenship, about clearly stating that all Canadian institutions were open to all Canadian citizens, including civil marriage.
As gay and lesbian Canadians, we recognized, whether or not we sought to be married ourselves, that it was not acceptable to be told that we could not walk through the front door of a key institution of our society. We also recognized that a lesser recognition of our relationships, such as civil union, cheapened our citizenship and made us less than full citizens. Entering a key institution of our society by a side or back door or creating a separate institution to recognize our relationships is not equality and not full citizenship.
The government also knows that it has no jurisdiction to create a civil union possibility, so that suggestion in its motion is misleading at best. The jurisdiction for such a step lies with the provinces, and the provinces have shown no interest in such a possibility since the passage of the Civil Marriage Act and since the court decisions that preceded it and which established the right for gay and lesbian couples to marry in almost every province in Canada.
There was great care paid to ensuring freedom of religion in the law that was passed. No priest, rabbi or minister will be forced to marry a couple against their will. No religious institution will be forced to perform a marriage that is against its beliefs, theology or practice. Indeed, since the law was changed, none have, and none will be. This is not new, in the same way that no divorced couple could sue or has tried and least of all succeeded to sue a church for a marriage if that was against the theology, belief or practice of that church.
Furthermore, to change the law now to remove the ability of gay and lesbian couples to marry will also remove the right of those churches, synagogues and temples which, on the basis of deeply held religious convictions, have decided to marry gay and lesbian couples. In many ways, the religious freedom shoe is now on the other foot. To truly protect religious freedom in Canada, we must protect the provisions of the Civil Marriage Act.
It has also been said that somehow the debate on the Civil Marriage Act was deficient. As someone who was part of that debate in the last Parliament, I want to take serious issue with that position. No issue was more fully debated in the last Parliament. Hours and days of debate were held at every stage of the bill. A special legislative committee held extensive hearings and heard from dozens of witnesses.
That was in addition to the numerous court challenges in the provinces and territories, Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the former government's reference to the Supreme Court and that court's decisions. As well, in the 37th Parliament, the Standing Committee on Justice held cross-country hearings on the matter, hearing from 467 witnesses. There have been multiple court decisions and multiple votes in the House. Hundreds of witnesses have testified and there have been hundreds of hours of debate. Due diligence was done.
This issue has been thoroughly debated in political parties. The NDP, for its part, has been very clear on its unconditional support for the right of gay and lesbian Canadians to marry. Other parties have had significant debates. The matter has been debated in churches, temples and synagogues, in families, classrooms and bars, and on the shop floor, and it is clear that a majority of Canadians do not now want to see a change in the current law.
Thirty-two years ago as a young gay man, I marvelled at the bravery of Richard North and Chris Vogel, a gay couple in Winnipeg, as they attempted to obtain a marriage licence. They did not succeed, but their relationship, their marriage, was subsequently celebrated by a Unitarian church congregation.
At that time, I could not imagine doing what they had done. I could not imagine living in a society where my relationships would be respected and honoured, where I could pursue a lifelong commitment to another man whom I loved and who loved me. I thought my relationships would always face imposed limitations and therefore be less than those of my parents and grandparents.
Thanks to brave couples like Richard and Chris, thanks to their example, their role modelling and their risk taking, new possibilities were opened up for me and for thousands of gay and lesbian Canadians like me. More recently, many other brave gay and lesbian couples put their relationships on the line, pursuing and ultimately securing justice in the courts and here in Parliament.
Éric and Scott, Laura and Anne, the women from Baltimore, and thousands of others have shown us that there is something of great value in the institution of marriage. They have shown us that inclusion in the institution of marriage is worth fighting for. They have demonstrated love, commitment and responsibility. These are the true traditions of marriage in Canada. These are values that truly define marriage in Canada.
Given all that, there is no reason to again debate marriage, no need to change the law, no need for a separate institution for gay and lesbian couples, and no need to limit access to marriage for gay and lesbian couples in the future. Instead, there is real reason to celebrate, to celebrate love, right relationships, commitment, the pursuit of justice, responsibility, and the building of relationships, families and communities, and to celebrate equality.
The witness of gay and lesbian married couples, the family, friends and co-workers who support them, and the Civil Marriage Act make that celebration possible. That is why New Democrats in the House will be voting against the Conservative government motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate, protracted as it is with 10 minutes each, on a subject which, when we think about its historical context, is the most significant sociocultural change that our society has faced in terms of a definition of a word and how it is going to be taken up legally in hundreds if not a couple of thousand years. It is very significant that we are talking about this and engaging in this debate.
I do not often look to someone in the media for support of a particular position I may have had, but there was an article this morning, an editorial piece in the National Post by Andrew Coyne, a person with whom I do not agree on any number of occasions. However, in terms of context and in terms of how this debate should proceed he framed it in a rational and civilized way.
That is one of the first things I want to address. The basis for my position I have articulated in the House on a number of occasions. The last time was in March 2005. I proposed to my colleagues the religious framework for the position which I embrace, the Judeo-Christian construct which frames that discussion and it is there for people to read, March 23 or 25 of 2005.
Therefore, I am not going to get into all of that tonight in the very short period of time that we have. I want to talk about the nature of the debate itself. I should add that the reference that I made to the National Post and the op-ed piece, is by somebody who says that they support a change in the definition of marriage. This is not someone with whom I agree on the position itself, but it is worth taking a look at in terms of framing the debate itself.
It was disappointing, I must say in all honesty, to hear not that long ago, and not from the previous speaker but I believe from the member for who took a very combative approach to this issue. Terminologies get thrown up, terms get tossed into this debate which really do not allow people to get into the real crux of the matter.
When somebody who supports the traditional definition of marriage as defined as the union between a man and a woman is called--and I have never plumbed the depths of the meaning of this word--homophobic or a “homophobe”, that does nothing to enhance the debate or encourage people to come forward or discuss it. Does that mean that somebody who wants to see the definition of marriage changed is a heterophobe? Of course not. That would be ridiculous.
I would hope that we can talk about the nature of the debate and the basic elements of the debate without it disintegrating into that kind of atmosphere. I think in most cases we have heard that so far and I hope we can keep it at that higher level.
Whatever our opinion is of whether this is an issue of basic rights or a violation of rights, and obviously we are allowed our opinions on this, there is a fact that is clear. The Supreme Court has not declared that the definition of marriage, defined as the union between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional. It has not declared that.
It might be someone's opinion that it has, and I reference the article in the National Post again this morning, not that the National Post is the be all and end all, but that has not been decided by the Supreme Court. It is certainly one's right to say that this is a violation of a human right, but it has not been decided by the Supreme Court.
As a matter of fact, on this question, the Supreme Court said that if there is going to be a change in the definition, Parliament should make that change. I applaud it for recognizing the purview and the jurisdiction of Parliament on that issue.
There is another aspect of this debate that is still somewhat troubling. Tonight, as we stand here and debate this very important item, our wish, and I congratulate the for understanding the very basics and the roots of democracy itself, is that the individuals and especially the delegated elected individuals who are here should be able to stand up and freely articulate our differences of point of view. There should be no man or women who could tell us that we would not be able to stand and speak freely on this.
I am pleased to see that the new Liberal leader has changed his mind on this and apparently is allowing a free vote. It is very disturbing to know that there are two parties in the House, and I am not trying to make this a partisan issue but I am pointing something out, that tonight, despite the encouragement of our , two parties in the House that call themselves democratic, and one even uses the word in its title, are not allowing their members to vote freely on this because in the opinion of the leader, unsubstantiated by a Supreme Court ruling, there shall be no freedom to vote on something as crucially important as this particular opinion.
It was not that long ago that the leader of the NDP actually kicked a women out of his caucus because she wanted to vote with her conscience. That type of thing--
It does sound like debate and not a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that does not detract from my time.
That particular member was stripped of all of her committee responsibilities. I participated on a live radio show with the leader of the NDP at about that time. He said, and we can get this out of Toronto, that he had ordered her to be quiet and he was pleased with her silence. If the hon. member does not think that is effectively de facto eliminating a member from what should be a democratic debate, he needs to take a good close look in the mirror. I am pleased that we are able to have the debate, at least with some parties, and to vote freely on it.
The issue of religious freedom is also one that should be of importance to everybody, whether they claim to be people of faith or not. When we look at history in terms of the development of certain democratic freedoms, we will know that certain religious freedoms give rise to broader freedoms. The freedom to express oneself religiously is so basic to so many other freedoms that when I met with the Dalai Lama about two years ago, I asked that in his world tour promoting world peace, for which I congratulated him, that he encourage every world leader to allow freedom of religion within their jurisdiction.
As we know, over half the world right now does not have freedom of religion because freedom of religion leads to freedom of speech, leads to freedom of association, leads to the freedom of expression, and the freedom to acquire property, to build mosques, temples or churches. It is basic to the freedoms we have. Anything that goes against that is very dangerous and has to be guarded jealously, again, whether a person claims to be a person of faith or not.
I raised questions on this issue in 2005, questions which have not yet been answered, but I would take issue with some of the things that my colleague spoke on. He has greater faith, I would say, in the fact that religious institutions and religious discretion will not be diminished if there is a change, as there is, in the definition of marriage. I appreciate his faith, but I would say to myself, “O ye of little faith,” because that is not what is happening.
In fact, we do know that there have been some cases where commissioners of marriage have been told they will be relieved of their duties if in fact they do not perform a marriage which is contrary to their faith, that being heterosexual marriage. That has already happened, so religious faith is being diminished there.
We have seen cases where religious institutions have faced rulings by the Human Rights Commission and incredible fines because they would not allow their property to be used for certain types of marriages. We have seen cases where individuals have expressed in newspapers, even letters to editors, their religious point of view on this issue and they have suffered severe penalties. Religious freedom is at risk here by those who do not truly understand the importance of allowing that to continue.
I will say in closing that I honour my parents. We have heard members speak about their parents. I honour my mother and my father, who recently passed away, for their demonstration of the importance of marriage, the importance of heterosexual marriage, and the realization that marriages are not perfect. Certainly, mine is not. My wife is, but I, personally, am not, However, the importance to maintain this institution as defined between a man and a woman is crucial.