Since I was first elected on Nov.27th/2000, there has not been a single issue that I have studied more, nor wrestled with more intensely than same-sex marriage and the principles inherent in the debate. I have read just about everything that can be read on the subject, from Andrew Sullivan to William Bennett, to all of Canada's court decisions, to the debates in the U.S. on the 'Defense of Marriage Act', to Jonathan Rauch, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Canada Family Action Coalition, Andrew Coyne, REAL Women, Margaret Sommerville, Christopher Hitchens, Robert Bork and all thinkers in between. More than Iraq, the ethic of pre-emptive war and the Kyoto Accord, same-sex marriage is an issue that I have wrestled with greatly for some time, taking into account all constitutional, legal, political, philosophical, practical and ethical considerations from the perspective of my role as a Member of Parliament, a representative and a Canadian who holds conservative values.
In an ideal world, the federal government would not be in the marriage business at all. What would be established would be registered domestic partnerships or civil unions for all Canadians, and the word 'marriage' would be fenced off from politics and left in the hands of religious institutions. However, Canada's constitution mandates that the federal government define the word 'marriage', and that definition must respect the Charter principle that all Canadians must be treated equally under the law. In a perfect world, the two principles of equality and respecting the origins of the word 'marriage' would be met with registered domestic partnerships or civil unions for all couples. However, this compromise is not possible given Canada's current legal framework.
This leads us to today's debate. In seven of Canada's thirteen provincial or territorial jurisdictions same-sex couples have the right to marry. In British Columbia, 3,000 gays and lesbians have wed, and in Ontario over 13,000 have. Last week's Supreme Court ruling noted that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects religious institutions from having to perform same-sex unions if they don't want to. It ruled that in Canada there is a separation between church and state in order to protect churches from the state. This is a positive development. On the question of the definition of marriage, the court ruled that Parliament must decide how it is to be defined. However, and this point must be noted, if the House of Commons votes 308 to 0 AGAINST same-sex marriage next year, gays and lesbians in the province of British Columbia would still have the right to marry. Legally, in British Columbia, the right to marriage for gays and lesbians, whether one likes it or not, is a closed legal question. The equality right to marriage for same-sex and opposite-sex couples is a right in British Columbia that can only be taken away by invoking the notwithstanding clause, or amending the Constitution. Polls have consistently showed that Canadians overwhelmingly do not support either such action.
So where does that leave me? I will work aggressively in Parliament, and with Canada's provincial Attorneys General, to ensure that Canada has clear laws to protect religious freedoms. Protections for both the right of religious institutions not to perform marriages if they choose not to, and the right of Justices of the Peace and Marriage Commissioners to not perform same-sex marriages if they choose not to by ensuring their freedom of conscience must be enshrined in law, not merely assumed to be protected by the Charter. While we extend tolerance to gays and lesbians, I fear we are not being as aggressive in extending the same ethic of tolerance to Canadians of faith who might choose, in good faith, to conscientiously object to same-sex marriage. Stephen Harper has been leading the way in outlining these concerns, and I agree completely with his efforts to force an amendment to the government's legislation to protect religious freedom.
short, I believe in equality under the law for all
Canadians for civil marriages, which in a perfect world
would be termed civil unions. And I also believe
strongly in the separation of church and state in order
to protect the rights of religious institutions and
people of faith from having to embrace or perform
same-sex marriages if they choose not to. As a result,
I plan to vote in favour of equal access to
civil marriage for all Canadians, while at the same time
focussing my efforts on protecting the religious
freedoms of all Canadians.
James Moore MP
Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam