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Canadians for Equal Marriage
Hansard – Civil Marriage Act (C-38) debate – Tony Martin (NPD)
March 24, 2005
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-38, the civil marriage act, that proposes to legalize same sex marriages in Canada.
I believe there are defining moments in the life of a Parliament and the lives of members of Parliament, moments that help define who we are and who we want to be as a country, what we believe and what we will stand up for. I believe this legislation is one of those moments.
I, along with my party, will support the bill. This is not a decision I take lightly nor is it an easy one. I welcome the debate in the House and in our country. I welcome the participation of religious leaders. There are people of goodwill and strong faith conviction on both sides.
My own Catholic bishops have invited all married Catholics to participate in this debate. I welcome that invitation. I myself am celebrating the 22nd anniversary of my marriage this year. I want to go on record with three essential statements about my position.
First, it has been said by some in my own community and elsewhere that my position contradicts my Catholic faith, when in fact my faith very much shapes and determines my support for the legislation, and I want to say something about that.
Second, I also want to be clear, contrary to the statements of some in my riding that I am not listening to my constituents, I am here today speaking for constituents in my riding. It may not be all of them. It may not in fact be a majority, but they are my constituents and I want to give voice to their words too.
I believe that the demands of justice and human rights are ultimately the deciding factor in my discernment. However, I assure the people of Sault Ste. Marie that I listen very carefully to all my constituents.
Third, I hope by contributing here and elsewhere to a respectful dialogue on this issue together we can make happen here what did not happen with similar legislation in the Ontario legislature when I served as a member. It was about 10 years ago on a fateful day where I saw the betrayal of a group of people from the gay and lesbian community looking for affirmation of their rights and equality before the law. That did not happen then. I can never forget how destructive that was for them, how wrong it was for that legislature at that time and how upset I felt. This Parliament has to lead and not let the courts do our work for us.
I recognize we are not going to satisfy everyone. When I think back to where public opinion, laws and mindsets were as little as 10 years ago, we have come a long way.
In some media stories, reporting my position on the bill, it has been stated that I would be voting in favour despite my personal Roman Catholic beliefs. I believe same sex marriage for civil society is a justice issue, but I want it clarified that I believe this is so because of my personal Roman Catholic convictions, not in spite of them.
I have not dissociated myself from the church. I cannot because it is that same church, whose leadership disagrees with me today, that inspires me to say this. It is the right thing to do. It was the spirit of Vatican II that challenged me to inform my conscience and that informed conscience says that we must reach out to Bill, Scott, Libby and Réal and all members of the gay and lesbian community and say that they are as whole and as wholesome as all humanity and worthy of all the gifts life has to offer, particularly the gift to love and to be loved and to be creators and co-creators of life in all its forms. They know this already. Their communities know this. It is time that the law proclaims this reality.
I respect my church. I respect it and I love it enough to be able to tell its leaders when I think they are wrong. I know there are other good and faithful Catholics who think the same. I have done everything asked of me by my faith in giving great weight to its teaching, reflected on my lived experience, prayed and thus informed my conscience. I believe, as my church expects, that I am being morally coherent and not separating my spiritual life and my political life.
It has been important for me to recognize the balance in the legislation that upholds human rights for same sex couples and that pays great attention to the principle of religious freedom. We must do everything to work with the provincial authorities responsible for marriages to enshrine and protect this principle of religious freedom. I believe we have ensured that we will not have our churches dictating their views on marriage to the rest of the community and that community not interfering with the teaching, beliefs and practices of our religious communities.
Recently a Sault senior citizen asked me if I meant that the bill changed nothing about what the church could teach, believe or practise. I assured him that this was the case.
This issue is not about me. The most powerful moment in my almost 15 years at Queen’s Park was when the government, of which I was part, brought forward a bill to extend benefits to gay and lesbian couples. I remember the sense of betrayal that day in the legislature when that bill did not pass. The gay, lesbian and bisexual community believed that they had rights, that they belonged. How disappointing for them. I do not ever again want to experience another day in Parliament like that day.
I believe we all have grown in our understanding of people who are perhaps different from ourselves in all kinds of ways. That is a hallmark of the tolerance that characterizes Canadians and Canada. We are not finished with this journey toward tolerance. We hope that we and our children move from labels, hateful language or stereotyping to putting names and positive experiences on people different but equal to ourselves.
The media in my home town has been filled with many legitimate views opposed to my position, but there are others. I heard from a young man from my riding named Andy who wrote:
So please, help me to grow my future family. You are the person that will dictate whether or not this will happen...Think of the love that you will be granting to the thousands of people who only ask to be normal like others and to be left alone.
I heard from parents of a gay son and a lesbian daughter, happy that their gay children might be on an equal footing with their heterosexual brothers or sisters. They do not want the orientation of either to bar their children from normal occupations, promotions or pensions.
Some believe a compromise on this contentious issue might be a civil union option for same sex couples. The Leader of the Opposition, with others, offers something sort of like marriage, except that it would not be marriage, no symbolism, no tradition, no social stamp of approval and acceptance. Courts have dismissed the separate but equal argument.
The question is this. What is the right thing to do in 2005 for human rights and for our society? How do we do this well, to move people and society along and not polarize one another? I see the progress people have made in their thinking on this in the past 10 years and I do not want it lost. I believe that access to civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples will add to the stability of Canadian families and Canadian society.
This is a world that needs more people who are willing to make loving, lifelong commitments to each other and who are willing to take full responsibility for their relationships. In a matter for all society, the Charter of Rights does matter. We cannot have two classes of people.
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