Queen's Park acts as Parliament debates

Read Ontario's Bill 171

Read Ontario debate - Feb. 24, 2005

Read Ontario debate - Feb. 23, 2005

Read Ontario debate - Feb. 22, 2005










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Legal - Canada - Ontario Queen's Park sends message to Parliament

February 25, 2021

Queen's Park sends message to Parliament
Ontario's multiparty support for gay marriage

"I very proudly rise to speak in support of this bill. This bill breathes equality into dozens of statutes where discrimination lay dormant, but I want to be clear what this bill isn't and what this bill is. If this bill were somehow a vote on same-sex marriage, I would very proudly vote yes -- I would vote yes to same-sex marriage -- but that is not what this bill is about. The bill is primarily concerned with bringing our statutes in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill seeks to update our statutes to reflect a new reality in Ontario. In a sense, as NDP leader Howard Hampton said yesterday, it is a housekeeping bill. It is. It is born out of a judicial decision, yes. I say to this House, it is also the right thing to do."
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General, Ontario), Feb. 23, 2004

While Parliament is in a delayed debate about same-sex marriage, Ontario has got on with updating its legislation to be in compliance with the ruling from the Court of Appeal for Ontario, while also taking into consideration the religious protection issues raised in the Supreme Court of Canada Reference.

Until now, gay and lesbian couples were segregated in legislation, apart from the definition of spouse that had, until the June 10, 2021 ruling, been reserved for married opposite-sex couples. No more. Gender-specific terms have been removed from Ontario legislation and gays are now included in the definition of spouse.

The Ontario government has, with multiparty support, amended more than 70 Ontario statutes to bring them in line with court decisions that found same-sex marriage to be constitutional, Attorney General Michael Bryant announced in a release on February 22. "We are committed to ensuring that same-sex couples are treated with the same respect and dignity as opposite-sex couples," said Bryant. "By changing the definition of spouse in these statutes, our government is helping to ensure that Ontario laws don't discriminate against same-sex couples, including those who choose to marry."

The bill includes provisions to clarify that religious officials cannot be compelled to perform marriages or use their sacred places for the celebration of marriages that are inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

The legislation follows a June 2003 decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal upholding a Divisional Court ruling that the common law definition of marriage, which excluded same-sex couples, is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On July 17, 2021 the federal government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to provide an opinion on whether Parliament could change the legislative definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

Effect of bill on religious groups

"What is the effect of this bill on religious organizations, and in particular, will religious groups affiliated with religious organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, be protected from having to rent their facilities to same-sex couples in the proposed legislation? The answer to that question is that the proposed legislation protects religious officials and sacred places in relation to the solemnization and celebration of same-sex marriage. This means that only religious officials registered to perform marriages under the Marriage Act are protected. It does not contain protections for non-religious officials or non-sacred places. But section 18 of the Human Rights Code protects certain organizations that are formed to serve the interests of a particular group of people, including members of a particular religion. If a group falls within section 18 of the code, the organization may be allowed to restrict access to the services or facilities to members of their group. This protection existed before the Supreme Court decision, and it continues to exist today. However, where an organization makes its services or premises commercially available to others outside its recognized group, it must do so without discrimination."

Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament, Mr. David Zimmer (Willowdale), Feb 23, 2021

On December 9, 2020 the Supreme Court confirmed that same-sex marriage is constitutional and that the Charter guarantees the freedom of religious officials to perform marriages and use their sacred places in accordance with their religious beliefs.

"Our government believes this is the right thing to do," said Bryant. "With this proposed legislation, we are ensuring Ontario's laws comply with the Charter, so that all citizens have a chance to live a life free of discrimination."

The Ontario Confederation of Catholic Bishops agree (see sidebar).

The federal Members of Parliament in Ottawa are still trying to catch up, as victory after victory in the courts have brought gay marriage to 8 regions across Canada.

Ontario is once again showing Ottawa how to defend the rights of its citizens. With support from the NDP and Conservative parties, the governing Liberals are getting on with the task of updating legislation and passing the bill.

All parties are looking ahead to other important tasks of governance.

Ontario Catholic Bishops
support Bill 171

The Ontario Confederation of Catholic Bishops yesterday commended the Ontario government for protecting the rights of religious officials by not compelling them to perform same-sex marriages. One area of particular concern to the Catholic bishops is the use of church property, said Tom Reilly, the group's general secretary.

"The bishops wanted to be sure that religious bodies could not be compelled to allow their properties to be used for purposes associated with same-sex unions if such are contrary to their teachings, as is true for the Catholic church," Mr. Reilly said. "The bill clearly provides this protection and the Ontario bishops accordingly support it."

"Ontario to include gays, lesbians as spouses", The Globe and Mail, Feb. 23, 2005

A simple voice vote in favour of the bill took place last night, leaving no record of individuals votes. Instead, the parties worked together united for human rights.

"We made a decision a couple of years back in order to deal with the issue of marriage in the province of Ontario,"said Mr. Gilles Bisson (Timmins - James Bay). "It was a bill that the Conservative government had brought forth that we voted for. We extended that right to individuals within Ontario. This Legislature did that at the time. I believe it was unanimous, if I remember correctly: Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals stood together unanimously to give people of the same sex the ability to marry within Ontario. We did that unanimously, and if I remember correctly, there was not a divided vote on that particular issue. Every member had an opportunity to get up and divide. Some of the gentlemen who got up today and said, "You know, we should divide today," had an opportunity to do that when we originally extended the right to do this back some years ago. So let's deal with this for what it is. This is in order to bring the statute into line with what the law already is. It doesn't deal with the extension of any rights. It doesn't deal with anything other than making sure that all of the acts within the province of Ontario comply with what is already in the bill, which is already the law."

"I have to say,",Ms. Kathleen O. Wynne (Don Valley West) said in debate on February 23, "as I've watched the federal debate unfold, when I began to read the ink that's being poured out on this debate federally, my initial position was, "What is the big fuss?" I have been in both a heterosexual marriage and I'm in a committed homosexual lesbian relationship. To me, the tired old institution of marriage was something that we probably should be polishing up. Originally, the debate was not one that I wanted to particularly engage in, but I have to say that as the debate has continued and as it has escalated and as the issue of human rights has become clearer, as we listen to people talk about rights being taken away or people being marginalized, it has become clearer and clearer to me that it's important and necessary that all of us who believe that this is a human rights issue and that it's the right thing to do to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples speak up on that."

"I'm not naive enough to believe that one debate or one piece of legislation can change the engrained notions of society; I know that's not the case. But if we can protect the right of our children to be who they are, then they will change those notions, and I believe that's already happening. It's up to us to change the laws so that the next generation can change the attitudes. We all deal with internalized homophobia. Every straight person and every gay person has internalized the norms of society. My hope is that our children will be able to change those attitudes."

Ms. Kathleen O. Wynne (Don Valley West), Feb 23, 2021

Ms. Wynne spoke passionately about the need to publicly speak out against homophobia.

"Homophobia can be a loud and violent fact, or it can be subtle and whispering. It's the teasing that can stop a talented young male figure skater from pursuing a dream. It's the force that creates and reinforces stereotypes. It's the norm that can convince a beautiful, vibrant, healthy young girl that she's ugly because she doesn't want to wear makeup. It's the fear that forces teenagers struggling with their own sexual orientation to be the most abusive to others, because they're trying to cover for themselves. It's the fear that forces a little boy to turn to his mom one day and to tell her that he isn't going to wear bright colours any more, even though his whole little life he's loved those bright colours. He's figured out that that's not OK. Homophobia is the fear that forces those things."

Minister of Health George Smitherman spoke of the contribution of Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto:

The Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes (photo by equalmarriage.ca, 2003)"Now, I must be careful in acknowledging that Brent Hawkes is my preacher, because if attendance were taken there as it is here, there would be some concern about how one can make a claim that someone is their preacher when they don't go in person quite as often as they might to hear the tremendous oratory, the passion and the tremendous wisdom that Brent Hawkes brings in his role as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church. That church on Simpson Avenue, in the riding of Toronto-Danforth, home to the member opposite, has a reputation, I think it's fair to say, as a place where a progressive, inspirational congregation does what it needs to do to make the kinds of advances, the human rights advances, that the gay and lesbian community has been much in need of over a period of time. This courageous band, a very small group of people in the grand scheme of things, has demonstrated that you can, in a certain sense, fight city hall, that you can make the progress that's necessary for a society to evolve. I think that is the essence of the greatness of Canada. That in this land, with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have made a home for people from all over the world where we celebrate diversity and recognize it as our greatest strength is, I think, a credit to the fabric of our country. I just want to say that I'm honoured to be here today and to have a chance to speak in the presence of Brent Hawkes, who stands out as one of the most exemplary leaders I think our country has ever known."

Like the Court of Appeal for Ontario decision that preceded it, the move by Queen's Park sends a strong and timely message to the federal MPs in Ottawa.

"Christianity and other religions are about tolerance; they're about love," said MPP Bisson during the Feb. 23 debate. "They're about how people are able to live together in some harmony. I can't believe that Jesus Christ or whoever else you might believe in would come of the view that because a person happens to be gay, somehow or other they shouldn't belong and shouldn't be part of our society and shouldn't be able to practise within our churches. So I just want to put on the record that I think we need to be mindful of the views of other people and the practices of other people.

"I don't know what kind of mess it would create overall if these statutes weren't changed, but I've been urging the government for over a year now to move on this, and finally they're doing it. It is the law of the land. We have to change the statutes, and you guys agreed with it at the time. You have to change the statutes to make it work properly. That is all we are doing here today, so let us vote. Let us get on with this."

Marilyn Churley, NDP Member of Ontario's Parliament, Feb 24, 2021

"I just want to come to the last point. I know to some people in politics this is a bit of a hot-button issue. We've watched the debate unfold in Ottawa, and some people have used this to their own advantage, as far as being able to trump it up as trying to be on the right side of the issue, as they see it, thinking that if they vote in opposition the voters back home will be happy with them and vote for them in great numbers. I just want to say that that's not where the public is at. The public on these issues, quite frankly, is way beyond that."

Conservatives need only compare Stephen Harper's meek response to this week's presentation of the Liberal government's budget, and compare Harper's divisive attack against charter rights and gay marriage. The evident priorities of Harper's extremist social agenda have shown how he is unsuitable for leadership, being so out-of-step with voter rich Ontario and Quebec.

"There's really no one left in mainstream Canadian politics representing fiscal conservatives anymore. Stephen Harper certainly isn't. He's spending too much time congratulating Prime Minister Paul Martin," Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck wrote in yesterday's column titled "Conservatism is extinct". Which raises the question: what's the purpose of the Conservative party? You might as well just vote Liberal."


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