Betty Hinton, MP Masthead
Member of Parliament for Kamloops Thompson Cariboo
Canada Coat of Arms

Speech by Stephen Harper

September 16, 2003-09-17 CA Supply Day Motion: Definition of Marriage

Allotted day-Marriage


Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance) moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.


Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to debate this motion on preserving the traditional definition of marriage in Canada.


First, let me begin by recognizing that this is an emotional debate, one where views are strongly held. We should be clear on what the debate is and is not about. It is not about human rights. The rights and privileges of marriage have been extended in law across this country to gay and lesbians and to non-traditional relationships of various kinds already. That is not in contention here.


Also not in contention is the recognition of non-traditional relationships. Civil unions for gays and others exist in law at the provincial level. That jurisdiction and those arrangements are not challenged by any substantive body of opinion in the House.


What the motion is about is marriage: preserving in law an institution that is essential. It is about democracy. It is about the right of the people to make social value judgments and, more specifically, the right of judgments to be made by the representatives of the people rather than by the judges appointed by the government.


Finally, and perhaps most important, it is about honesty and political integrity, about a government that ran on one position and now doing another but, disgracefully, doing it in a way that avoids parliamentary consent and public debate.


Let me begin by commenting on marriage. I will read the following quote which summarizes my views:


Marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of longs-standing philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'Ítre transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.


Interestingly, that quote comes from former Justice La Forest of the Supreme Court of Canada. I will comment on his quote and his position a little later.


The question we should really be asking today in this debate is whether this institution should be redefined in law. We on this side of the House say, no, but if the answer to that question were to be yes, the responsible thing to do would be for those who believe traditional marriage should be abolished to argue democratically and openly that it is desirable and socially necessary to do so.


However opponents of traditional marriage have refused to do that. Instead they have gone to the courts to contort this into a human rights issue. They have chosen to make change without social consensus and, in doing so, they have articulated a position which I believe is wrong in law, universally insulting, very dangerous as far as real rights are concerned and, of course, has been done so in a highly undemocratic manner.


First, this is wrong in law. Sexual orientation or, more accurately, what we are really talking about, sexual behaviour, the argument has been made by proponents of this position that this is analogous to race and ethnicity. This position was not included in the Charter of Rights when it was passed by Parliament in 1982. It was not included, not because of some kind of accident or oversight, but deliberately and explicitly by all sides of the House of Commons.


Sexual orientation was later read in to the charter. I would point out that an amendment to the constitution by the courts is not a power of the courts under our constitution. Something the House will have to address at some point in time is where its powers begin and where those of the courts end.


However, even accepting the reading in of sexual orientation, the addition of sexual orientation, unconstitutionally by the courts into the charter does not in itself mean automatically that traditional marriage should be deemed illegal and unconstitutional.


I quoted former Justice La Forest earlier. Even the Supreme Court of Canada, when it was asked to address this question, defended the traditional definition of marriage. The quote I read from Justice La Forest comes from his judgment in the Egan decision of 1995. This is one reason why, of all the court decisions, the government has been so anxious to push this issue through. It has not been anxious to go to the Supreme Court of Canada because it has doubts the Supreme Court of Canada would actually agree with it on this position.


More serious than being wrong in law, this position of declaring traditional marriage unconstitutional and illegal is, in our view, very insulting.


Would the Supreme Court of Canada which, unlike lower courts, is under increasing public scrutiny, really want to be associated with the view that the traditional marriage arrangements of millions of Canadians constitute some kind of act of discrimination? That is now, we are told, the position of the Minister of Justice, that people who happen to believe that being married is different than just being any two people and that they are somehow involved in some kind of conspiracy of inequality or, as the member for Vancouver Centre, the former multiculturalism minister, has stated, traditional marriage is equivalent basically to denying public services based on race. It is something like race-based washrooms or golf clubs which exclude members of certain ethnic groups.


That is a long way from what the justice minister was telling the House in 1999 when we addressed this issue and this motion. The then justice minister, now the health minister, said the following:


We on this side agree that the institution of marriage is a central and important institution in the lives of many Canadians. It plays an important part in all societies worldwide.


She went on to say that the government would never consider making such a change to the definition of marriage.


Unfortunately for the Liberals, the view that being for traditional marriage is analogous to some kind of racist or ethnocentric agenda is, unfortunately, not just a slur in this case against political opponents, as they are all too willing to do. It is an attack on the traditional beliefs of every single culture and faith that has come to this country.


Whether we are talking about Britain, France, Europe, China, India, Asia or Africa, just name it, all of us came here to build a future that would respect the values and traditions of our ancestors and build a future for our children and families. One of those things was based on our traditional institutions like marriage. For the Liberals or anyone in the Liberal Party to equate the traditional definition of marriage with segregation and apartheid is vile and disgusting, and a position that has no place--


Some hon. members: Oh, oh


Mr. Stephen Harper: Our society has come, over the decades in my lifetime, to respect and recognize in law the choices of consenting adults. It is time that traditional institutions like marriage be equally recognized and respected.


This position is also very dangerous because, no matter what the Liberals say today, the kind of mentality that would have traditional marriage declared illegal and unconstitutional would inevitably endanger actual rights that are enshrined in our constitution, not merely read in, such as freedom of religion.


The Liberals and the justice minister say today that they will not touch the ability of churches, temples, mosques and synagogues to determine their own definition of marriage but these are the same people who said in the last election that they would never consider touching the definition of marriage itself.


I ask you, Mr. Speaker, and members of the Liberal Party who agree with us in principle to think very carefully about this. If the Liberals and some of their front bench people now say that the traditional definition of marriage is illegal, immoral, discriminatory and racist, what will stop them? Why would they ever tolerate those who, through their religious institutions, believe otherwise?


We see before the House Bill C-250, which is, in our view, just another step down this course of criminalizing opinions on this subject that are simply not accepted by the Liberal left.


Finally, there is the notion that what is going on here is highly undemocratic. I do not think I have to explain this but let me go over the facts. In 1999 a virtually identical motion was passed through the House and supported by the Liberal Party: supported by the Prime Minister, the incoming prime minister and, in fact, I have to add, drafted in part through arrangements in the House by the then justice minister, now health minister.


How it is a trap now and was not some kind of a trap then I do not know. Actually, I do know. We were facing an election campaign where the Liberal Party would have to face its own conservative supporters who would simply not accept this categorization of their views. Therefore they adopted a position then and now they want to do something different, now that they are out of sight.


However nothing relevant to this motion has changed in the past four years. Public opinion on the motion is just as divided. If anything, it is actually slightly more in favour of traditional marriage than it was then but it is just as divided. Lower courts are ruling just as they were then, that we should go in a different direction. The bias of those courts was becoming apparent. This was all known. It was mentioned in the motion. It was precisely why the House of Commons passed that motion.


The motion said that the government would protect marriage and would use all necessary means. It did not say that it would use the notwithstanding clause as the first line of attack, that this was a chance to obliterate the charter. It never said any such thing. The Prime Minister is trying to claim that now. He did not try to claim that in 1999 when the same motion was being passed.


The motion does not say "the notwithstanding clause". It says "what is necessary". The government did not do what is necessary. The government did nothing to protect traditional marriage.


In fact the government did everything it could do within reason to overturn that definition of marriage. It did not, to begin with, ever introduce or pass through the House into statutory law the traditional definition of marriage. Parliament has never done that. What has been overturned in the courts has been simply a series of common law rulings.


The government then went to court and had an unblemished string of losses ending when Justice McMurtry and the Ontario Court of Appeal decided to unilaterally and instantaneously change the definition.


What the government then did was use that opportunity, not to appeal the case, not merely to refuse to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada where it feared it might lose, but is now in the courts of this country trying to block anyone else from appealing this decision in the Supreme Court of Canada.


Its position now is that it does not want a vote on this issue until after the next election. It does not want Parliament to look at this in the life of this Parliament. It wants the Supreme Court of Canada to approve its legislation but only to approve the questions that it asks. It does not ask the Supreme Court of Canada whether the traditional definition of marriage would be legal and constitutional in this country.


When it actually gives at some future date the Parliament of Canada the right to vote on its legislation, that vote will mean nothing because that vote will give members of Parliament two consequences: pass what the courts have already done or do not pass it and leave it the way it is. There will be absolutely no choice whatsoever.


In laying out these facts I have been accused of compiling some kind of conspiracy theory against the government. This is not conspiracy; this is dishonesty. It would be hard to be more open and transparently dishonest than this government has been on this question.


To concede this kind of ground to the courts without so much as a debate or vote Parliament, what I wonder is where is the incoming prime minister? Where is Mr. Democratic Deficit, Mr. Fix the Democratic Deficit? All of a sudden his position is whatever the courts say that is fine with him. So much for elected people. But why should we be surprised that he seems to have no particular problem with scandals over there? He had no problem writing cheques for any number of boondoggles or anything else. In any case it would be difficult for the government to be more dishonest than it is being.


The motion has been previously passed by this House. In fact it was the House's last word on it. People on all sides, particularly in the Liberal Party, had to campaign hard on this issue. In some more conservative ridings they were elected on it, and absolutely nothing has changed.


What is before us today? It is a chance for the House, for the Liberals in particular, to come clean and do what we have done. We are a conservative party. We support traditional marriage. We voted for it and we believed in it. We ran on it and we meant it. I call on the Liberal Party to do the same thing.


If this motion is to pass today, we obviously need the votes of Liberals to do that. It will tell the government to take a different course of action. If it does not pass today, it will tell the people of Canada they need a different government.


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