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Protecting the Traditional Definition of Marriage in Canada


Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper blasted the government of Canada in the House of Commons for its failure to protect marriage in what is being described as the best speech Harper has ever delivered. A motion to affirm the traditional heterosexual definition of marriage was defeated by a vote of 132-137 in large part because of the efforts of Catholic Prime Minister Jean Chretien and the lobbying of members of his caucus.

Stephen Harper, MP
Leader of the Canadian Alliance
Leader of the Opposition

House of Commons
September 16, 2003

It is a pleasure for me to rise today to debate this motion on preserving the traditional definition of marriage in Canada.

Let me begin by recognizing that this is an emotional debate. It is one where views are strongly held, so we should be clear about what this debate is, and about what it is not.

It is not about human rights. The rights and privileges of marriage have been extended in law across this country to gays 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. There is jurisdiction for this at the provincial level. Those arrangements are not challenged by any substantive body of opinion in the House.

This motion is about marriage and preserving in law an institution that is essential in fact.

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 more importantly, it is about honesty and political integrity; about a Government that ran on one position and that is now doing another, but disgracefully doing it in a way that avoids parliamentary consent and public debate.

Let me begin my comments with a quotation that summarizes my views.

"....marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of longstanding philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'etre 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."
That quotation comes from former Justice Gerard La Forest of the Supreme Court of Canada, and I will comment on his quotation and his position a little later.

The question we should ask in this debate is whether this institution ought to be redefined in law. We on this side of the House say "No." But if the answer were to be "Yes," those who believe traditional marriage should be abolished should be responsible, and 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, and very dangerous as far as real rights are concerned. And, of course, they have done all of this in a highly undemocratic manner.

First, this is wrong in law. Regarding sexual orientation, or more accurately, sexual behaviour, proponents of same sex marriage have argued that this is analogous to race and ethnicity. This position was not part of the Charter of Rights when it was passed by Parliament in 1982. It was omitted, not by accident or oversight. It was omitted deliberately and explicitly by all sides of the House of Commons.

Sexual orientation was later read-in to the Charter. The courts, in effect, amended the constitution, and amending the constitution is not a power for the courts. At some point, the House is going to have to declare where its powers begin and where those of the courts end.

However, even if we accept sexual orientation being read-in to the Charter, that does not automatically mean that traditional marriage should be deemed illegal and unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court of Canada itself, when it has been asked to address this question, has defended the traditional definition of marriage. I read from Justice La Forest's judgment in the Egan decision of 1995. This is one reason why the Government has been eager to hear from all sorts of courts, except the Supreme Court. It has been anxious not to hear from the Supreme Court of Canada because it doubts the Supreme Court of Canada would actually agree with it on its position on same sex marriage.

The Government is seriously wrong in its estimate of the law. It has declared marriage unconstitutional, and in our view that is very insulting. Would the Supreme Court of Canada, which is under increasing public scrutiny, really want to rule that the traditional marriage arrangements of millions of Canadians constitute some kind of act of discrimination?

That is now the position of the Minister of Justice. He tells us it is terrible discrimination to think that being married is different. The member for Vancouver Centre, herself a former multiculturalism minister, stated this summer that traditional marriage is like denying public services based on race that it is something akin to race-based washrooms, or golf clubs that exclude members of certain ethnic groups.

That is a long way from what the then-justice minister was telling the House in 1999 when we first brought forward this motion. Four years ago, the then-justice minister, now the Health Minister, said:

"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 marriage into a same sex institution.

This view, that being for traditional marriage is analogous to some kind of racist or ethnocentric agenda, unfortunately for the Liberals, is not just a slur against their political opponents. It is also an attack on the traditional beliefs of every single culture and faith that has come to this country.

Whether we came from Britain, France, Europe, China, India, Asia or Africa, 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 was our traditional institution of 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. 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.

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

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

I ask the members of the Liberal Party who agree with us in principle to think very carefully about this. If the Liberals now say that the traditional definition of marriage is illegal, immoral, discriminatory and racist, why will they ever tolerate those who, through their religious institutions, believe otherwise?

Bill C-250 is also before this House. It 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, I say that the Liberal plan for same sex marriage is highly undemocratic. In 1999, the same motion, except for one word of difference, was passed by this House and supported by the Liberal Party. It was supported by the Prime Minister. It was supported by the incoming Prime Minister. It was drafted in co-operation with the then-justice minister, now the Health Minister.

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

How can it be a trap now, if it was not some kind of a trap then? Because we are now facing an election campaign where the Liberal Party must face its own conservative supporters who no longer recognize their party's view of marriage.

However, nothing relevant to this motion has changed in the past four years. Public opinion on this motion is just as divided. If anything, the public is slightly more in favour of traditional marriage than it was then, but opinion remains deeply divided. Lower courts are ruling just as they were then. The bias of those courts was becoming apparent four years ago and that was mentioned in the motion. It is precisely why the House of Commons passed that motion.

This motion says that the Government should do 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 to overturn traditional marriage. It did not introduce a statute law to protect the traditional definition of marriage. Instead, the Government let the courts overturn a series of common law rulings.

When the government faced the courts, it had an unblemished string of losses ending when Justice McMurtry and the Ontario Court of Appeal decided to unilaterally and instantaneously change the common law definition of marriage.

Then, the Government decided not to appeal that Ontario Court of Appeal decision. And it went further. It is now in the courts trying to block anyone else from appealing that decision.

Now the Government 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 it does not ask the Supreme Court of Canada whether the traditional definition of marriage would be legal and constitutional. It does not even bother to ask.

Then, when it eventually lets Parliament vote on its legislation at some point in the future, our vote will mean nothing. That vote will give members of Parliament a choice: pass a law that reflects what the courts have already done or do not pass that law and accept what the courts have already done. That is absolutely no choice whatsoever.

I have been accused of compiling some kind of conspiracy theory against the government when I set out these facts. The Government is not involved in conspiracy. It is involved in dishonesty. It would be hard to be more openly and transparently dishonest than this Government has been on this question.

And where, I wonder, is the incoming Prime Minister on this issue?

Where is Mr. Democratic Deficit? His position is that whatever the courts say is fine with him. So much for elected people! But why should we be surprised by his position? He has no particular problem with the scandals in his Government. He never had a problem writing cheques for their boondoggles.

It would be difficult for the Government to be more dishonest than it is being. This House has already adopted our motion. In fact, it was the House's last word on marriage. People on all sides, particularly the Liberals, campaigned hard on this issue. In some more conservative ridings they were elected on it.

Today's motion is a chance for the House, for the Liberals in particular, to come clean and to do what we have done.

We are a conservative party. We support traditional marriage. We voted for it. We believed in it. We ran on it and we meant it.

Now, we call on the Liberal Party to do the same thing.

We obviously need the votes of Liberals to pass this motion. It tells the Government to take a different course of action. But if it does not pass today, it will tell the people of Canada that they need a different government.



Stephen Harper. "Protecting the Traditional Definition of Marriage in Canada." (September 16, 2003).

This article reprinted with permission from LifeSite. LifeSite Daily News is a production of Interim Publishing. Permission to republish is granted (with limitation*) but acknowledgement of source is *REQUIRED* (use

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