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SAME-SEX MARRIAGES IN CANADA

2005-FEB-16 to FEB-18

Parliamentary debate of Bill C-38 "Civil Marriage Act" starts

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Sponsored link.


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Earlier developments are described in another essay

In this essay, "SSM" means "same-sex marriage." "MP" means Member of Parliament.

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Quotations:

bullet"There are two types of MPs:
bulletthose who support the right, true and traditional definition of marriage . To them, say thanks for doing what is right and honest and good for Canada.
bulletThen there are those who are out to destroy marriage and family. To them say goodbye, it is time for them to be replaced in Ottawa. There is a political price to pay for being anti- marriage, anti- family." Quotation from the Canada Family Action Coalition." (CFAC) 6
bullet"For some of these people, their wedding is something they've been hoping to do for years and now, for the first time in history, they're allowed to do it. It gives their life and their love and their sexual orientation credibility, validity in the larger society that they're part of. It's a great celebration of their love, their gayness, their membership in a tolerant society." David Paperny, whose company has produced the "My Fabulous Gay Wedding" TV show

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Background:

As of 2005-FEB-03, 87% of Canadians lived in a province or territory which has already made SSM available to same-sex couples as a result of court rulings. Another court challenge is expected in Alberta. If this authorizes SSM in that province, then only 3% of the Canadian population will be without access to SSM in their province or territory.

On 2005-FEB-16, debate on the C-38 bill began in Parliament. If passed, then the remaining 13% or 3% of the Canadian population will gain direct access to same-sex marriage

The government expects to have a short debate on the bill, and hold a second reading vote perhaps before MAR-02. If it passes, the bill then goes to a committee. They hope that the bill will become law by the end of 2005-JUN.

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Events:

bullet2005-FEB-16: Debate in federal Parliament began: Debate on Bill C-38 began on Wednesday. Probably by coincidence, it happened in the middle of the Freedom to Marry Week 2005, an American observance which runs from 2005-FEB-12 to 19.

C-38
is unlike any other bill:
bulletStephen Harper, leader of the right wing Conservative party appears to be nervous about the potential for hate-speech in Parliament as his MPs debate the bill. He has required all of his party's MPs who plan to debate the bill in Parliament to first get their speech approved by him.
bulletHouse leader Tony Valeri said that Liberal MPs will speak "in a free and unfettered way" during the debate. Referring to Harper's censorship order, Valeri said: "It is a contradiction in terms to say that... [the Conservatives] will allow a free vote when they will not allow free speech."
bulletJustice Minister Irwin Cotler would normally have spoken first in favor of the bill. He is the MP who is sponsoring the bill. Prime Minister Paul Martin has taken the unusual step this time of leading off a long list of about 150 speakers. Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star writes: "It is an unusual move, a first for Martin and a signal the Prime Minister wants to clearly frame the the debate from the get-go....To him, this is an issue of leadership and the willingness of those elected to stand up and be counted in defense of minority rights."
bulletMartin's Press secretary, Melanie Gruer, said: "He'll talk about the critical need, no matter what the political environment, to defend minority and Charter rights."

MacCharles continues: "If the bill fails to pass 'second reading' it will be seen as a fatal blow to the government's legislation. If approved in principle at the 'second reading' vote -- which many say won't happen until late March -- the bill would then go to a Commons committee for study."

We suspect that, as each MP speaks, the public will be able to determine his or her position within seconds. If the MP starts out with a reference to human rights, it will obviously be a pro-bill speech. If the MP starts with a reference to traditional marriage, it will signal an attack on C-38. 1

bullet2005-FEB-16: First day of debate on SSM in Parliament:
bulletPrime Minister Paul Martin spoke first. As expected, he based his argument on the need to guarantee equal human rights for all. He said that legalizing SSM is a matter of protecting minority human rights and is the Canadian thing to do. He said: "The people of Canada have worked hard to build a country that opens its doors to all...regardless of their differences...If we do not step forward, then we will step back, and if we do not respect a right, then we deny it." He went on to refer to the unanimous decisions in a series of court cases which ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples. He said that the Conservative party is "insincere," "disingenuous," and unwilling to admit that they would have to override a fundamental Charter right to equality in order to block SSM. Martin said that the only way to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples would be for Parliament to exercise the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  That belief was confirmed recently by group of 134 constitutional experts. Martin continued: "I believe in and I will fight for the Charter of Rights. I believe in and I will fight for a Canada that respects the foresight and the vision of those who created and entrenched the Charter."
bulletAs expected, Steven Harper, leader of the Conservative party, argued on the basis that the institution of marriage would be endangered by SSM. He said "Same-sex marriage is not a human right [but] a newly invented Liberal policy [that is not akin to rights like] freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, equality before the law." He proposed federal enabling legislation that would allow individual provinces and territories to create systems of civil unions, domestic partnerships or whatever form provinces might legislate in order to give "all the rights and benefits of marriage" to same-sex couples. But they would not be given the status of marriage.  Harper said: "In my view, the onus is on those who want to overturn such a fundamental social institution to prove that it is absolutely necessary and that there is no other compromise that can respect the rights of same-sex couples while still preserving one of the cornerstones of our society." He expressed concern about the guarantees in bill C-38 that would allow clergypersons to discriminate against same-sex couples without putting themselves at risk of a human rights lawsuit. Harper said that only the provincial governments can make such a guarantee. He attacked the Liberal party for having contempt of human rights in the past. The liberals restricted Jewish immigration during World War II, interned Japanese Canadians in the 1940s, and invoked the War Measures act in 1970. He concluded his speech by saying:

"I ask them [Liberal MPs] to join with us to defeat the bill and urge the adoption of another which reflects the practice in other advanced democracies and which reflects our own honorable traditions of compromise. There are fundamental questions here. Will this society be one which respects the longstanding basic social institution of marriage or will it be one that believes even our most basic structures can be reinvented overnight for the sake of political correctness?  Will this society be one which respects and honors the religious and cultural minorities or one which gradually whittles away their freedoms and their ability to practice their beliefs? Will this be a country in which Parliament will rule on behalf of the people or one where a self-selected group of lawyers or experts will define the parameters of right and wrong? All of these questions are in our hands to answer. It is up to all of our consciences. It is not what the Prime Minister and the PMO advisers tell us is most expedient; it should be based on our consciences and what our constituents tell us to do. Mr. Speaker, before I leave the floor, I would like to move an amendment. I move: That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following: 'This House declines to give second reading to Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, since the principle of the bill fails to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others and fails to recognize and extend to other civil unions established under the laws of a province, the same rights, benefits and obligations as married persons'." 4

bulletGilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, discussed the stigma and historical discrimination experienced by gays and lesbians that led many to suffer; some attempted suicide. He said: "The debate on same-sex marriage is ultimately a question of citizenship." He drew an analogy between SSM and the decision to recognize that women were "persons" and to give them the right to vote. "We can't claim that Quebec or Canada are just societies unless citizens are treated with complete equality."
bulletBill Siksay spoke for Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party, who was recovering from surgery. Siksay spoke from his perspective as a gay man. He said that those who championed marriage rights for gays reflected the values he learned in his family, church and community and "the importance of making a lifelong commitment." He said that same-sex couples want to embrace marriage, not change it. He continued: "Gay and lesbian people cannot be considered full citizens if key institutions of our society are considered out of bounds to us." 2,3
bullet2005-FEB-17: Flurry of reaction to Stephen Harper's speech: As noted above, Harper criticized the Liberal party for its disregard of fundamental human rights in the past: denial of Jewish immigration during World War II, interning Japanese Canadians in the 1940s, and invoking the War Measures act in 1970. This motivated a number of groups representing cultural minorities to criticize him. The Toronto Star newspaper listed: National Association of Japanese Canadians, the Chinese Canadian National Council, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Canadian Buddhists Civil Liberties Association, the World Sikh Organization, the British Columbia Unitarian Church and the Muslim Canadian Congress. The Unitarian group referred to apparently does not exist. The newspaper report may be referring to an individual Unitarian congregation in British Columbia.
bulletThe National Association of Japanese Canadians issued a news release saying it was "wrong-headed [of Harper] to try to play politics with an ancient historical wrong."
bulletProfessor Audrey Kobayashi of Queen's University said: "By raising the issue of Japanese Canadian internment, Mr. Harper is resorting to cheap political shots...rather than facing the inconsistency of his position on human rights."
bulletPat Case, chairperson of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, said it was "simply embarrassing" to see Harper try to score political points with the issue.
bulletJudy Hanazawa, of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association, wrote: "Although the fight against racism and racial discrimination is far from over, supporting Bill C-38 for equality rights in marriage for same-sex partners is today's civil rights struggle."
bulletThe Chinese Canadian National Council criticized Harper for stating all Chinese or other ethnic minorities were against equal marriage. They said it is "patronizing and insulting" for him to say that there is a "universal view among them."
bulletReferring to Canada's record on Jewish and Japanese-Canadians' rights, federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, a legal scholar and a Jew, commented: "Everything that Stephen Harper cited, many of us have already written about and cited. The question that I ask Stephen Harper is what does all this have to do with the issue at hand, the question before the House? He continued, saying it was: "nonsense [for Harper] to portray ... the Liberal party as anti-religious, and anti-multiculturalism, anti-everything else, anti-human rights, the source of almost all evil, to deflect away his own vagueness on this matter."
bulletThe Family Services Association of Toronto said that Harper, in discussing limits that the Netherlands and Belgium have put on adoption by gay married couples, wrongly suggests gay parents are somehow "unfit." Yves Savoie, executive director of the association, said studies show the opposite. He said step-parent and third-party adoption rights are already allowed in nine provinces and one territory in Canada with courts ruling that the exclusion of same-sex couples from adoption rights is unconstitutional.
bulletAlex Munter, coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage said that Harper was "so busy vetting his MPs speeches, he forgot to check his own." He said that Harper "reached a new partisan low by blaming one political party for Canada's collective failure in admitting Jewish refugees and interning Japanese-Canadians." 5
bulletJim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition, a pro-life group, said: "The first part of the amendment is just what was necessary, what was expected, what was needed – a rejection of the bill since it did not define marriage properly. However, Harper needlessly went on to totally offend a large portion of the country and alienate many of his supporters with an add-on devaluing marriage by opening to any civil unions all the benefits and rights of married couples. Marriage is the institution which brings forth and nurtures the next generation and as such deserves special rights and benefits. Such privileges are the reward and incentive society owes married couples for the sacrifice involved in raising good citizens." Hughes may not be aware that many same-sex couples have children or adopt children, while some opposite-sex couples remain childless by choice or infertility. 6
bulletLifeSite, a socially conservative group that esteems "life, family and universal norms of morality" commented on their web site: "The amendment is a political ploy since the Supreme Court and even Harper in his own speech acknowledged that civil unions are strictly a provincial matter." 6

Meanwhile, Danny Williams, the Conservative premier of Newfoundland said: "From a personal perspective, I actually support gay marriages. I practiced law for over 30 years and championed social justice and believed in minority rights and believed in the rights and freedoms of individuals under our Charter of Rights [and Freedoms]."

bullet2005-FEB-17: Hutterites object to same-sex marriage: The Hutterites are a conservative Christian group with Anabaptist roots. They have about 31,000 members in Canada -- primarily in British Columbia and the Prairies. They have traditionally separated themselves from political matters over their 477 year history. However, their extreme concern over SSM motivated them to speak out. One minister said: "We were taught to obey the government as long as it’s not against our conscience. We felt we had to say something to let the world know we’re against this." Mike Stahl, a preacher from a colony north of Saskatoon, SK linked marriage to childrearing. He said, "It doesn't take the kids long to find out about the birds and the bees. They know there's got to be a bull with the cows, that there's got to be a stallion with the horses and that when you're raising rabbits, there's got to be a boy rabbit and a mother rabbit." He also may not be aware of the many same-sex couples who are raising children, and the many opposite-sex couples who are not. The Hutterites wrote a letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin warning that if Parliament continues on its present course, a fate awaits the country similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. 7 The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) relate how God exterminated all of the men, women, children, infants and newborns in those cities. Some think it was because the cities' men engaged in homosexual behavior; others believe it was because the city folk were unkind to strangers; still others consider the biblical story to be a myth. More details
bullet2005-FEB-17: Physicians warn MPs about same-sex marriage: A group of seven physicians presented a paper titled "Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Some Medical Comments" in Ottawa. They believe that legalization of SSM will result in a major change in public understanding of  homosexuality. They will regard it as a normal, natural sexual orientation. They seem to think that increasing acceptance of homosexuality will lead to more youths choosing to be homosexual. This, they suggest, will cause increased health problems and costs. They note a difference between studies of children raised in a family led by same-sex parents: studies quoted by homosexual support groups tend to indicate that children raised in a same-sex household are as healthy as those raised in an opposite-sex household. Studies quoted by conservative Christian groups disagree. 7,8
bullet2005-FEB-18: Focus on the Family reviews debate in parliament: CitizenLink, a newsletter from the Fundamentalist Christian group, Focus on the Family, commented on "Angry Debates Over Same-sex Marriage." They wrote: "Most Conservative members of Parliament oppose the bill, and more than 90 have signed up to speak against it. Even some members of Martin's Liberal Party oppose it, though most observers believe the bill will pass. Same-sex marriage is legal in seven provinces and one territory in Canada, and the bill would extend that across the country." 9
bullet2005-FEB-18: Liberal MP blasts C-38: Tom Wappel (Liberal-Scarborough Southwest) called bill C-38 "discriminatory, a sham and a hoax" that could well lead to the legalization of polygamy. He denied that same-sex marriage is a human right. Referring to the Netherlands and Belgium, he said: "Absolutely no country in the entire world has declared it to be a human right including the two countries which presently allow it for same-sex marriage." He suggested that if the one-man one woman requirement is dropped, the requirement for "two persons" may be also be superseded, Any number of persons may be allowed to marry. In an apparent reference to Islam and some Mormon denominations, he continued: "That discriminates against those religions that believe that it is perfectly acceptable to have more than one spouse. Why is it acceptable to remove discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but continue to permit and perpetuate legislation and common law other forms of discrimination? Either we eliminate all forms of discrimination or we leave the current definition alone. It has worked for millennia. If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Wappel may not be aware that polygyny -- that form of polygamy involving one man and multiple women -- has been practiced by Mormons in British Columbia (BC) for decades. The BC government considered prosecuting them, but decided that the case would be hopeless. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees religious freedom. A number of constitutional experts consulted by the BC government suggested that they would lose any court case against polygamy. More details

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Later developments

Possible paths forward to legalize same-sex marriage

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References used:

  1. Tonda MacCharles, "PM to lead debate on same-sex bill. 'An issue of leadership, Charter rights.' The stakes are high for both sides," Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-16, Page A6.
  2. "Same-sex union a Charter right: PM," The Kingston Whig Standard, 2005-FEB-17, Page 9 & 12.
  3. Tonda MacCharles, "Commons anything but civil. PM says bill protects minority rights. Harper mocks 'newly invented policy'," The Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-17, Page A6.
  4. House of Commons Debates, Hansard, Government of Canada, 2005-FEB-16, at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/. The home page for FEB-16 is at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/
  5. Tonda MacCharles, "Harper speech stirs wide outcry. Comments during gay marriage debate roundly condemned. Insulting 'to play politics with an ancient historical wrong'." Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-18, Page A6. Online at: http://www.thestar.com/
  6. "Hutterites Break Customary Political Silence to Warn Canadians Against Gay 'Marriage'," LifeSite, 2005-FEB-17, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  7. "Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ a Health Risk Doctors Warn Parliamentarians," LifeSite, 2005-FEB-17, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  8. " 'Gay marriage' and homosexuality: some medical comments," LifeSite, 2005-FEB-17, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  9. "Parliament Sees Angry Debates Over Same-sex Marriage," Citizen Link, 2005-FEB-18.

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-FEB-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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