Equal Marriage

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-38. I have to say there were times when I thought this would never happen. There seemed to be so many delays for political reasons or to accommodate a political agenda.

I am very glad that finally this bill is before Parliament and is being debated. I hope very much that the bill will be approved and that it will not be so drawn out that somehow it gets lost again, because I think it is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation that we will deal with for a very long time.

The first thing I wish to say is that I am very proud of our leadoff speaker on this debate, the hon. Member for Burnaby Douglas, who rose in the House last Wednesday and spoke with such great courage. He shared with us very personal information about his own life as a gay man and about his partner of 24 years, Brian. As I listened to that debate, I felt very proud to be a member of this caucus and this party where our leader, the member for Toronto-Danforth, has been so clear on what the position of the NDP is.

I wish to thank the member for Burnaby-Douglas for speaking out in such a strong and forceful way and for I think really giving a human face, a real face, to what this debate is about. I am also very proud of our leader, who has done the same thing.

For me this debate is not about tolerance. I listened to the comments of the Minister of National Defence a little earlier. He said he would be very proud when this bill passes and I would certainly agree with him. I think he made a very fine speech. I too will be very proud when this bill passes, as I hope it does.

But I think it needs to be said that Bill C-38, if it were left to the Liberals and the Conservatives, would not pass. It really begs the question as to the reality. We have a Prime Minister who on the one hand has spoken about the values of human rights, dignity and respect to the Canadian people, but on the other hand has allowed his own members to have a free vote. I think that is unfortunate.

I would also like to recognize the work that was done by the former member of Parliament for Burnaby-Douglas, Mr. Robinson. I think it was two or three years ago when I stood in this House to support his private member’s bill on same sex marriage. Certainly in Canada Mr. Robinson has been at the forefront of the campaign, the movement and the struggle for gays and lesbians to seek equality. In the early years, when he first came out, the work that he took on was very difficult and very painful for him. Certainly there was a backlash. The courage he displayed has allowed many of us to come forward and has paved the way for gay and lesbian rights in this country. The work that was done needs to be remembered, recognized and valued.

I was also very proud to be part of the press conference on Valentine’s Day, February 14, with the member for Burnaby-Douglas and the Bloc member for Hochelaga. The three of us engaged in a press conference because we wanted to speak out as gay and lesbian members of the House. We wanted to talk about our own lives. We wanted to put that before the House.

I was here last Wednesday, February 16, when the debate began. I listened to the Prime Minister. I actually really appreciated the history that he gave about the charter and equality and where it has come and how it has evolved. I think it was very important to put that on the record.

I also listened to the leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Conservative Party. The thing that struck me most about his speech, even though some people may believe it was a very eloquent and a very heartfelt speech, is that it was very unreal. It was very out of touch with the lives of real people in Canada.

In fact, today I was on the radio debating with a Conservative member, the member for Cambridge. As we were debating this bill he told me and the listeners that he felt the speech of his leader was something like a doctoral thesis. I guess he was very impressed with the speech. He thought it was very academic and from his perspective he thought that it covered all kinds of legal points. He likened it to a doctoral thesis.

He then went on to say in the radio debate and interview this morning that he felt the bill before us was talking away his rights, a Conservative member’s rights, in terms of marriage and the institution of marriage. I have to say that I had some real trouble understanding the meaning of this argument and where it was going.

I certainly did not see the speech from the Conservative Party leader as a doctoral thesis. Maybe it would serve well as some doctoral thesis, but to me the debate fundamentally comes down to dealing with the reality of people’s lives and how we as a society treat people, especially minorities.

We have had all of these very significant court cases, and the legal route and the litigation that happened were incredibly important because they paved the way for this debate to happen, but at the end of the day, after all the legal arguments are said and done, I think what we are dealing with is a matter of people’s individual choices and lives and what we choose to do in terms of getting married or not.

So when the member for Cambridge today said that this debate for him was about taking away his rights, I have to say I really do not understand that. I do not understand how strengthening and enlarging the definition of civil marriage is taking away anybody’s rights.

As I said before in the House, this bill on same sex marriage is not about forcing the member for Cambridge or the member for Calgary Southeast to marry a man if they do not want to. There is nothing in the bill that creates harm. There is nothing in the bill that undermines the institution of marriage.

On the contrary, as the member for Burnaby–Douglas pointed out so beautifully in his speech, this debate and this bill are about actually strengthening the institution of civil marriage. This is about strengthening people’s commitment to one another.

To come back to the Conservative leader’s speech, what I was struck by, as I said, was the lack of humanity. If the debate is only about theoretical legal issues, and if that is the only part the Conservative leader can attach himself to, if that is the only way he can debate it and reconcile whatever is going on in his mind, then I think he has really missed the point. He has missed it on the basis of what is happening out there for a lot of people. I wanted to make that point.

In fact, what the Conservative Party offers up to us is this notion of a civil union. I have heard this so many times from different Conservative members and I have to say that we have to reject this notion.

If years ago there had been a debate about ending marriage as we know it as an institution and if the debate for everyone was about us all going to a civil union, then I think that debate would have had some merit, but at the eleventh hour to bring in an argument and to rest one’s case on the idea that a civil union is going to do it is a really false notion, and I think people see it that way, as simply a rationale and a smokescreen to negate the real issue here, which is about equality in marriage.

If the institution of marriage is good enough for straight people, if it is good enough for a man and woman, then why is it not good enough for two women or two men if they choose to make that decision?

Then we have the member for Calgary Southeast. I have had some debate with the member. An article in The Globe and Mail today states, “MP doubts social benefit of same-sex marriage”. As for seeing the arguments that are produced there, I guess we could spend several days just debating how ridiculous they are, because he is resting his case on the idea that marriage is primarily or only about producing children, about procreation.

I think there are so many reasons why that is completely invalid. To begin with, all of us know couples, married people, who either choose not to have children or who maybe cannot have children. Are we saying that somehow their marriage is not to be validated or that it is not real? In fact, there are same sex marriages and same sex relationships where children are procreated. There are all kinds of families out there. There are different kinds of families. They have children or they do not, or parents are the biological parents or they are the adoptive parents. To me this is the whole point of the debate: it is to recognize the reality in our society that a family is not just one thing as defined by the Conservative Party of Canada. It is not that narrow.

The Minister of National Defence said that people evolve and decisions evolve. I would agree with that. It seems that only the members of the Conservative Party, which as we know dropped the word progressive from its name, are not able to evolve with this. They are denying many people in our society the same kind of respect, dignity and choice that other people have.

To rest one’s case on the procreation argument is to rest it on a very false premise. I would recognize, though, that there are other members in the party. I read the article by the member for Calgary Centre-North, which appeared in his local paper or maybe in other papers, and I very much appreciated that the member had the courage to write an article and say where he stood: that he respected choice, dignity and people’s rights and that he was in favour of the bill. I know that he is in a minority in his own party. There are a few others there as well. I very much respect that and the fact that he had the courage to speak out.

In terms of my own position, I do want to say that I do not see this as a debate about tolerance, as I said, or about destroying tradition or undermining other people’s rights. In fact, what I believe is that one can actually be against same sex marriage and vote for the bill. I believe that is possible, because to me what this bill is about is our duty and responsibility as members of Parliament to uphold people’s rights and choices.

I do not believe it is up to me as a member of Parliament to say to another couple that they have no right to get married. I think it is very possible that one can be opposed to same sex marriage for religious reasons, cultural reasons or personal reasons, whatever they might be, it does not matter. That choice is not taken away from those members, but I see a distinction between that and what our roles and responsibilities are as members of Parliament.

There are 308 of us and we have a very privileged position in this place. I believe that one of our core roles is to uphold the values of our society in terms of people’s rights and their choices. I come here as a member of Parliament, no matter what my personal views are, and my duty is to uphold those rights for equality.

I would really encourage members of the Conservative Party to think about that, because at the end of the day surely it is my choice if I wish to marry my partner who is a woman. That is my choice to make as long as I am doing it within the bounds of civil marriage and so on. I cannot understand and I cannot see how any other member of the House or the state as a whole has a right to deny me that choice if I want to make that choice, if I choose to live common law or if I choose to be married with my partner who is a woman. To me, that is a very fundamental question in this bill that has been put forward.

The other question I want to deal with is the question of religious freedom. I know that members of the Conservative Party have raised this time and time again. I understand that within the faith community there are different points of view. There are some religious institutions and churches that feel very comfortable with the idea of same sex marriage and are actually willing to perform same sex marriages within a religious setting, churches such as the United Church of Canada, and I think that is great. But there is absolutely nothing in the bill that would force any religious institution, any synagogue, mosque, temple or church, to perform a same sex marriage if it did not want to.

The whole idea that this is somehow infringing on religious freedom is politically motivated. I am trying not to be negative in the debate. In the spirit of what others have said, I am trying to be very positive. I am trying to stick to the high ground. There have been some points where I have felt pretty damn mad about some of the comments made and the way the debate has taken place. There has been a political agenda. There has been an attempt to be divisive. There has been an attempt to go into ethnic communities try to divide people. Let us be clear. The bill protects religious freedom in every way. For anyone to say contrary is misrepresenting the bill.

We are getting thousands of e-mails, letters and faxes every day. We read through the ones that we can, but some go into the recycle bin. Some have been pretty vicious and others have had some pretty nasty messages in them. Some of them are quite hilarious and I have to laugh at them.

One that came forward said, “Even our Canadian goose mates for life. Let’s learn from nature. Please vote to preserve the sanctity of marriage”. My response to that one might be something like Daffy Duck is no basis on which to base the principles of marriage.

Another one said, “Get control. You’re an elected member of Parliament in a democratic country, therefore you are responsible to all Canadians, not your party. Use the authority that Canadians have given you to vote against Bill C-38”. I agree with that one. I am voting on the basis of upholding democratic choices for Canadians. It is funny how we interpret these things.

Another said, “Where is it going to end? End it now by voting against same sex marriage”. This message really plays into people’s fear. Fear does exist in some communities. People are worried about losing their sense of tradition. Rather than MPs fueling and exploiting that fear, we have a responsibility to tell Canadians that this is not about fear. It is not about something ending. It is about something beginning. It is about extending the celebration of love and commitment into a civil institution of marriage. This is not something we should see as an end. We should see it as a great beginning. .

I want to thank all of the same sex couples who have devoted their lives to bringing us to this point. Many people put themselves on the line, both financially and personally, in terms of litigation. We should be grateful to them for the work they have done.

I am speaking about groups like EGALE and Canadians for Equal Marriage which have done a tremendous amount of work. Let us now do our job and make sure that we vote for Bill C-38.