Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage: The MPs' Roundup, Part One

Parliament resumed sitting yesterday, and the morning was taken up with the second reading of Bill C-38, the same-sex marriage bill. You can find the whole debate here, but for the sake of the public record I've summarized the comments of those MPs who spoke on the bill. (I've also included links to MP's websites, which feature their e-mail addresses if you want to comment on their remarks.)


Mrs. Rose-Marie Ur (Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Lib.): Con. She voted for the traditional definition of marriage in 1999 and 2003, and she's following the wishes of her constituents. She blames the courts for this bill, pointing out that sexual orientation isn't in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that redefining marriage would have negative consequences.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC): Con. He suggests that Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan is breaking a 1999 promise not to change the definition of marriage. Quoting from several of his constituents' letters, he says they see the issue as one of social policy, not rights.

Hon. John McCallum (Minister of National Revenue, Lib.): Pro. (Note that cabinet ministers are required to support this legislation.) He believes that society should always seek to expand the rights of members so long as the rights of others aren't reduced. He equates SSM to women's voting rights and doesn't see how the idea of gay marriage diminishes the idea of straight marriage. He states that Canadians cannot protect the tradtional idea of marriage and
protect minority rights at the same time.

Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga, BQ): Pro. He sees SSM as a matter of citizenship: gay couples see the virtues of marriage (fidelity, mutual commitment and support) in the same way as straight couples. He states that the bill doesn't open the door to polygamy or polyandry because multiple-partner marriages diminish the Charter-guaranteed right of gender equality.

Hon. John McKay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, Lib.): Con. (Parliamentary secretaries aren't Cabinet ministers and therefore can vote freely.) He calls the bill's title (officially, "an Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes" or the Civil Marriage Act) sugar-coating, he finds the preamble dubious without the force of law, he thinks the portions that protect religious officials are worthless and insulting (likening religous officials to bigots), and suggests that consequential amendments to other Canadian laws will cause a domino effect. He tries to link the introduction of same-sex civil unions (in the Netherlands, Denmark and Quebec) with a decline in the number of straight civil marriages in those jurisdictions.

Mr. Mark Warawa (Langley, CPC): Con. His constituents don't want the traditional marriage to be changed. He suggests that the Liberals are afraid of a total free vote on the bill. He doesn't see SSM as a fundamental human right, citing a decision from the UN Human Rights Commission. He sees civil unions as being equal to traditional marriage. He believes the bill is an attack on religious rights.

Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.): Pro. He finds the bill defines a new frontier of equality and respect for Canadians. He says the debate isn't about religion or tradition, but about the basis of civil society and the need of everyone to be free and equal. He wonders who would deny to gay couples the right to express love and commitment to each other, and suggests that thousands of civil-union licenses would have to be rescinded if the bill fails.

Mrs. Carol Skelton (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, CPC): Con. She personally supports the traditional definition of marriage and thinks equality under the law is possible without having to change it. 90 percent of her constituents want her to vote against the bill, but she promises to support existing civil unions in her riding.

Hon. Dan McTeague (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.): Con. He doesn't believe the institution of marriage is a claimed right, and doesn't think the authors of the Constitution and Charter intended such a right. He reminds the House that there are more pressing problems than SSM, such as poverty, housing and Aboriginal needs. He considers this bill to be bad legislation.

Mr. Werner Schmidt (Kelowna—Lake Country, CPC): Con -- maybe. He doesn't openly declare his voting intentions, but he mentions that he's seeking the wisdom of God, which suggests it's likely to be "con." He does ask a lot of questions with regard to the implications of SSM.

Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, Lib.): Pro. She suggests that past rulings from provincial and territorial courts preclude the idea of keeping the traditional definition of marriage while creating same-sex unions. She says the courts found the traditional definition of marriage to be unconstitutional and that the only way to save it would be to use the Constitution's notwithstanding clause, a prospect she finds troubling.

Mr. John Williams (Edmonton—St. Albert, CPC): Con. He finds the definition of marriage to be unique among the social relationships available to members of society. He doesn't consider marriage to be an inalienable human right, but a commitment of choice. He argues that there is no legal requirement to enact this bill. He suggests that, based on the Supreme Court's opinion, the government cannot commit to freedom of religion with this bill, because secular rights trump religious rights when it comes to the Charter.


So for 21 March, the score is 8-4 for the Cons, which seems about right. So far as I can tell, no one has said anything genuinely stupid (although McCallum makes an analogy from Chinese history that comes pretty close), but we'll see.

If anyone is interested in seeing summaries of MP remarks in previous debates on C-38, please let me know.