Mr. Richard Marceau
Madam Speaker, I cannot help starting the debate by saying, finally. Finally, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and finally, we are seeing the end of a process that began long ago, all too long ago.
Contrary to what some in this House are saying, the debate is not proceeding too quickly, and the bill is not being rushed. That is simply not true.
In Canada, the debate began sometime around 1999, when the Law Reform Commission of Canada produced a report entitled: Beyond Conjugality . Since then, there has been lots of debate and considerable confrontation and discussion. The Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness heard 467 witnesses on the subject. I was present on the committee when the vast majority of them were heard.
The standing committee whose report we are debating today broadened the definition, the concept of technical witness, in order to hear over 60 witnesses on the matter before us.
I heard the Conservatives say that we were pushing to get the bill passed. Allow me to read part of an editorial from what is no doubt their preferred paper, the National Post , not a sovereignist or a left leaning paper. I will quote the article in the language in which it was written.
But whatever side of the issue one is on, the notion that reforms are being rushed through without proper debate is overblown.
In fact, it's hard to think of a policy issue that has been the subject of more debate in this country over the past two years. After committee hearings, endless public analysis and the 2004 election in which voters were well aware that a re-elected Liberal government intended to legalize gay marriage, the personal stance of virtually every MP in this country is already well-documented. And given the degree to which opinions on the issue are inflamed, it is highly unlikely that any of those positions will change in the foreseeable future, no matter how much more debate there is.
That appeared in the National Post on Friday, June 3, 2005.
So, to say that there has not been sufficient debate, that this is being rushed through, is completely untrue. They are simply being disingenuous in suggesting such a thing.
This debate, then, has almost reached its conclusion. Contrary to what has been said all too often, we are not witnessing a radical transformation of marriage, we are witnessing the evolution of an institution that is far from static and that has changed over the centuries.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, to which the majority of the population of this country belongs, polygamy was permitted a few hundred years ago. It was then outlawed. We need not go so far back; barely 50 years ago in Quebec, a women who married lost her status as an adult. She became a minor and the responsibility of her husband, who was supposed to act as a “responsible man” or fatherly head of the household.
Today, as a result of evolution, thank God, women and men are full and equal partners. We are not talking about several hundred years ago, merely several decades ago.
Societies change over time. Institutions, which are the backbone or an essential part of any society, must also change or they may cease to exist.
Two parameters have determined the approach taken by the Bloc Québécois in this debate. As we know, there is a free vote, certainly. We have an official position that was guided by two parameters.
First, we believe in human rights, particularly the right to equality as set forth in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has been determined to give same-sex couples the right to marry, a position favoured by the vast majority of Bloc Québécois members. We want to be sure, therefore, that the right to equality, the right to same sex marriage, is upheld.
Second—and even though we were speaking about civil marriage—freedom of religion is just as important. We want to ensure that freedom of religion enables churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues that refuse to marry same sex couples to continue doing so. However, the amendment to which I obtained unanimous consent a little while ago clarifies one fear—or, I hope, removes one fear—and will diminish the concern of some people that their churches, temples, synagogues or mosques could lose their charitable status.
An analogy could easily be made with the Catholic Church. Not allowing women to become priests is, in itself, discriminatory. Not allowing divorced people to marry in the Catholic Church is, in itself, discriminatory. However, this dogma of the Catholic Church is protected under freedom of religion in the Quebec and Canadian charters.
The Bloc Québécois and all those who favour same sex marriage have no intention at all of removing freedom of religion, threatening the freedom to hold dogmas that sometimes seem, on the face of it, to contradict the equality rights of certain people in our society.
I do not think that the amendment I introduced this afternoon is necessary.
However, including this amendment in Bill C-38, and stating in black and white that no church or religious group will lose its status as a charitable organization, allays the fears of the many groups that came to committee to share their concerns. They were not afraid of marrying same sex partners. I asked that question almost every time. They were afraid of losing their status as a charitable organization. In fact, in committee I asked one of the religious groups for a suggestion for the wording of this amendment and the amendment as introduced was very much inspired by that suggestion.
This morning, by unanimously allowing the inclusion of this amendment in Bill C-38, the House has demonstrated good faith and shown that all these religious groups have nothing to fear, that their freedom of religion and their definition of marriage will continue to apply in their institutions.
Again, I encourage all my colleagues to support Bill C-38 in order to show our opposition to discrimination and our support for human rights and the right to equality for our gay and lesbian constituents. The bill should also be supported to show that our appreciation for difference, whether religious, ethnic, cultural or sexual orientation, is a credit and a benefit to our society. Finally, we should support Bill C-38 in order to show the world that we are tolerant to differences and, better yet, we embrace these differences because they create a richer society for us and for our children.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Civil Marriage Act