the Traditional Definition of Marriage in Canada
STEPHEN HARPER, MP
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.
Leader of the Canadian Alliance
Leader of the Opposition
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Stephen Harper. "Protecting the Traditional Definition of Marriage in Canada."
LifeSiteNews.com (September 16, 2003).
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Stephen Harper, MP is leader of the Alliance Party of Canada and leader of the
Official Opposition in the House of Commons in Ottawa.