MPs speak of courage, conscience and duty



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Mr. Brent St. Denis (Algoma Manitoulin Kapuskasing, Lib.):

"The courts in eight of the provinces and territories have come to the conclusion that to deny access to a civil marriage for same sex couples is contrary to the intent and spirit of the Charter of Rights. It is incumbent upon the Parliament of Canada to avoid balkanization of laws with respect to the definition of marriage and to act so from sea to sea to sea there is a consistency of definition. The courts are not deciding for us. They have helped us in this case and other cases in interpreting the Charter of Rights. It is now for us to respond appropriately, and the government through Bill C-38 is doing that."



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"Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a matter of great concern to me and, I would say, to all members of the House. Flyers have been mailed out across Canada to a variety of different members' ridings stating that members are against families or are trying to destroy marriage. Even though I think that position is intolerant, I do respect the opinion. However, what I do not respect is tens of thousands of dollars being spent anonymously with absolutely no way to contact this organization. My office has been contacted by hundreds of residents who are extremely upset. Maybe this is acceptable to the opposition but I would like to know who is behind it. We do not know who is behind it. Is there foreign money? Is there a political party behind it? These are the questions we have to ask. To have anonymous money being spent in this way from a post office in a 7-Eleven in Toronto is absolutely unacceptable."
Mr. Mark Holland (Ajax—Pickering, Lib.), House of Commons, March 22, 2005


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Legal - Canada - MPs speak of courage, conscience and duty

April 3, 2021

MPs speak of courage, conscience and duty
Members of Parliament ready for next milestone

The debate over The Civil Marriage Act (Bill C-38) continued in Parliament's House of Commons on March 24, with a final day of debate before parliamentary recess. Members of Parliament are restricted to comments lasting no longer than ten minutes. This debate marked the end of the first reading of the bill.

Parliament will show its will on April 12 when it is expected to vote against a Conservative Party amendment that would resurrect discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Thereafter, Parliament will approve the bill in principle and send it to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. There could then be a report (from the committee) stage vote in the Commons and then third reading debate and a vote on the final version of the bill. The bill will then go to the Senate for its consideration and approval.

Vote on April 12

Hon. Karen Redman (Kitchener Centre, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Conversations have occurred among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That at any time, on or before April 11, when second reading of Bill C-38 is under consideration, when no member rises to speak on the amendment, or subamendment, all questions necessary to dispose of the said amendment to second reading of Bill C-38 be deemed put, a recorded division requested and deferred until the end of government orders on Tuesday, April 12.

The Deputy Speaker:

Does the House give unanimous consent for the whip to put the motion?

Some hon. members:


The Deputy Speaker:

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Some hon. members:

Agreed. (Motion agreed to)

The following extracts from the March 24 debate demonstrate why the bill will be passed.

The Catholic Church and conscience

"In some media stories, reporting my position on the bill, it has been stated that I would be voting in favour despite my personal Roman Catholic beliefs. I believe same sex marriage for civil society is a justice issue, but I want it clarified that I believe this is so because of my personal Roman Catholic convictions, not in spite of them.

"I have not dissociated myself from the church. I cannot because it is that same church, whose leadership disagrees with me today, that inspires me to say this. It is the right thing to do. It was the spirit of Vatican II that challenged me to inform my conscience and that informed conscience says that we must reach out to Bill, Scott, Libby and Réal and all members of the gay and lesbian community and say that they are as whole and as wholesome as all humanity and worthy of all the gifts life has to offer, particularly the gift to love and to be loved and to be creators and co-creators of life in all its forms. They know this already. Their communities know this. It is time that the law proclaims this reality.

"I respect my church. I respect it and I love it enough to be able to tell its leaders when I think they are wrong. I know there are other good and faithful Catholics who think the same. I have done everything asked of me by my faith in giving great weight to its teaching, reflected on my lived experience, prayed and thus informed my conscience. I believe, as my church expects, that I am being morally coherent and not separating my spiritual life and my political life."

Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP)

A proud moment in our history

"Today we are here, a very proud moment in our history, taking one more step of ensuring that we permit and encourage those in same sex relationships, if they so choose, to express that in the institution of marriage. How can we resist that cry, that call, that fundamental issue of justice and equality? I am here today to simply say this is something we must do from the point of view of recognition of marriage as a union of two people committed to one another, wanting to be in a loving relationship, to share their lives. That is what they are saying. How can we say no to that?

"We are also here because we know that the overriding issue is equality. It is not how we in our individual social traditions view marriage. This is an important battle for everyone facing less than equal status in our society today. It is an important battle for minorities of whatever type. We are all in some respect in a minority position.

"The rock, the foundation of our justice system has been our legal right to be treated equally. It has taken us a long time to approach that ideal. This issue is yet one more step toward making that ideal a reality. That national commitment to equality across all boundaries and divisions in our society is the core of the tolerance and social peace that makes Canada the envy of the world. It cannot be compromised."

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, NDP)

"Amending the old common law definition of marriage is not only about acknowledging how our society has evolved over the last 139 years, but also reflects the fundamental Canadian values of fairness, equality and non-discrimination. As the Prime Minister has noted, this legislation is about the kind of nation we are today and the kind of nation we want to be.

"I know and I believe, as the Prime Minister said, that there are times when we as parliamentarians can feel the gaze of history upon us. They felt it in the days of Pearson; they felt it in the days of Trudeau. We, the 308 men and women elected to represent one of the most inclusive, just and respectful countries on the face of the earth, feel it today.

"I feel privileged to have the honour to be part of this momentous period of Canadian history which confirms our charter and our values as a Canadian society. I know that my decision to uphold the charter and minority rights is the right decision."

Hon. Sarmite Bulte (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Lib.)

Marriage moves gays out from margins

"Even if this House has heard some speeches, arguments and heartfelt personal opinions, both for and against same sex marriage, we have very little factual information on this subject, and there is a reason for that. Until very recently, our society marginalized same sex partners to such an extent that they often lived secret and almost invisible lives. That does not mean that they did not exist in Canada and elsewhere.

"Gays and lesbians, and same sex couples are an integral party of our history, but since they were not socially accepted, particularly from the Victorian era on, an atmosphere was created that was so hostile as to force many gays and lesbians to keep a very low profile. Fortunately, society's attitudes toward gays and lesbians are changing, here in Canada especially. What is more, many Canadian gays and lesbians are of such strong character that they are prepared to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly."

Hon. Marlene Jennings (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Canada—U.S.), Lib.)

Moral courage and political duty

"The bill calls upon us, deeply and forcefully, to remember that as legislators we must promote and protect fundamental rights. As a result, whenever some people are found to enjoy fewer rights than others because of prejudice against their ethnic origins, social status, moral and religious convictions or sexual orientation, then it is our duty to pass laws that guarantee them access to the same rights as others. It is a duty laid upon this Parliament to work to make our country's laws consistent. In this way, our fellow citizens would be justified in doubting the relevance of our role if they found that, while we espouse attachment to fundamental rights, we retreat when it comes time to adopt legislation to formally guarantee these same rights. Such inconsistency distances us from the sense of honour and the moral and political courage that the voters expect of us, no matter how diverse their opinions on this and other issues.

"... If, in Canada, we enjoy a level of freedom envied the world over, it is because we have been able to reach a social consensus around the idea that the guarantee of individual freedoms is based on respect for those of others. Consequently, my freedoms and rights cannot be protected if I use them to deny the freedoms and rights of others. Rights exist and are extended to all or none. Consequently, we cannot allow one group of individuals to be denied rights enjoyed by their fellow citizens. As soon as we identify such a denial, we have the responsibility as legislators to resolutely and courageously remedy it.

"Finally, I want to speak in my capacity as a doctor. This profession has taught me a great deal about human suffering and distress. I am happy to say that it has taught me to be constantly aware of people's general well-being, which enriches my political commitment. As a result, I have been able to see that a number of the health problems many experience arise from profound distress and suffering, often the result of being rejected because of prejudices about their innermost and inalienable identity. Too often in our society this is so hurtful that it drives some, an alarming number of our young people in particular, to suicide because they feel they are being held in contempt, ostracized and harassed for the simple reason that they were born with a sexual orientation that differs from that of the majority. Each such case is another human tragedy, a tragedy that casts a shadow on our own dignity, as it is a sign that we are still not capable of rising to the level of human values that would allow every individual to feel accepted and recognized just as they are. That is why I invite each of us to examine his or her conscience.

Mr. Rick Casson (Lethbridge, CPC) and a cry for conformity:

"A male friend of mine whom I have known most of my life, a successful businessman, a strong supporter of community activities, a husband, a father, grandfather, and devout Christian, phoned to say he would like to stop in at our home with some thoughts on how to stop the Liberals from changing the traditional definition of marriage. He came over and we discussed possible scenarios that could be used to improve the legislation or defeat it.

"During his comments, he paused for a moment, a tear came to his eye, and he started to relate how his family was being tormented by this issue. One of his children had decided to support same sex marriage and he was struggling to understand why. He broke down and was unable to continue. He could not understand why the Prime Minister and the Liberal government were doing this to his family.

"He, along with most Canadians, feels very strongly that the definition of marriage should be the union of one man and one woman, but he holds no animosity toward same sex couples."

"Can we allow such suffering to continue? Must we continue to tolerate people being so wounded, fatally even, by hatred and prejudice? Is it fair for some people to have rights, while others are denied those rights? Are we doing everything in our power to make our society more welcoming of those who suffer the consequences of exclusion? It is up to each and every one of us to reflect on this very seriously, and to be aware of the consequences of the important responsibility we have for one category of citizens of our county, for their very lives even."

Mr. Bernard Patry (Pierrefonds—Dollard, Lib.)

Appreciation for the trailblazers

"I want to use the last moment to express my appreciation for those who have been the trailblazers in putting themselves on the front lines of this battle at a time when it was not easy for people to declare publicly that they were not only gay or lesbian but that they were going to participate in the struggle to ensure that all gays and lesbians in Canada enjoyed the same rights as all other people in Canada.

"I think we owe them a special vote of thanks. We owe our heartfelt appreciation. However, we also understand that they fought the battle, not just for their own benefit but because they know that gays and lesbians in our society would enjoy the benefits of equal treatment and that the whole of society would benefit from our being a more tolerant, more inclusive society that can be proud of the fact that we have extended equal marriage to all of our citizens."

Ms. Alexa McDonough (Halifax, NDP)

The language of minority rights

"I am a member of the franco-Ontarian linguistic minority. If we can successfully make the argument to set aside the charter on the issue of civil marriage because it is a moral rather than a legal question then, in the case of minority language rights, we could suggest dropping official languages policies in this country because they are too expensive. It is a question of savings. That is the risk.

"I believe it is very important always to defend the charter since it is there to defend everyone in our society. That is the issue.

"One of the reasons I ran for Parliament was that I could see the challenges to the charter coming. During the vote on the opposition day motion in 1999, I was one of the 55 members of Parliament who voted against the preservation of the traditional definition of marriage. I saw it then and I see it now as an attack on the charter. For those reasons I am pleased to say that I will be supporting Bill C-38."

Hon. Paul DeVillers (Simcoe North, Lib.)

Determining the nature of civil society

" In my view, we are not just debating civil marriage. We are helping to determine the nature of civil society, because how this issue is resolved will have an important impact on the place of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canadian life. The charter is a reflection of the commitment that all Canadians made to each other, a commitment built over many generations. It is a clear statement of Canadian values shaped over this country's history. Hopefully there are fewer and fewer opportunities in the life of a nation when people must stand up for issues of basic human rights.

"... The charter is there to ensure that minorities, the weakest in our society, are protected. Extending rights to others in no way takes rights away from anyone. When the majority can decide for the minority without regard to the charter, it creates a dangerous situation. If the decision is made to use the notwithstanding clause, which is the only way to change the law in those eight jurisdictions, it sets a dangerous precedent which allows for a slippery slope. It could then be used by the majority whenever it wanted to suspend what is right and just, whenever the majority decided it was expedient. All minorities in our country would become vulnerable.

"... This bill does not take anything away from anyone. Rights do not become less precious when they are shared. The bill ensures that all Canadians receive the rights they deserve from a nation that is respectful, tolerant and compassionate. It ensures that we treat all Canadians as we want to be treated, as we would want our children to be treated. Perhaps that is the best way to look at it.

"Imagine how we would react if it were one of our children seeking respect for their rights. If one of my four children came home one day and said to me, “Daddy, I am gay”, I would want to look him or her in the eye and say, “I love you and support you without reservation and will do everything I can to make sure that you are accepted as an equal member of our society”. I would want my children to know that I took the opportunity on the day that I could be counted, in the highest institution of the land, to stand up for our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Family Values

"There is a group that nobody has talked very much about except to say that marriage is about children. Indeed, marriage is about children. I am here to tell the House that today we know that gays and lesbians can have children because of artificial insemination. I have delivered lesbian women who became pregnant, went to full term and delivered a baby just like a heterosexual woman. We know that heterosexual couples use the same technology to have children if they are unable to have children otherwise.

"I am saying that by denying same sex couples with children access to marriage, we are creating a second class of children in this country. We have done away with the old days when we had illegal children, bastard children who had no rights. What we are now creating is another group of children. The children of a same sex couple will not be equal under the law to the children of a heterosexual couple because their parents cannot get married even though both couples used the same reproductive technology in order to have those children. I am just saying that it is about fairness and it is about equality under the law."

Hon. Hedy Fry (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Lib.)

"Remember, Mr. Speaker, that today you may be part of the majority, but one day you too might be part of the minority. It is very important that we protect all in our society. In voting for Bill C-38 I will be voting to ensure the charter's place for all Canadians."

Hon. Tony Ianno (Minister of State (Families and Caregivers), Lib.)

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