CALGARY - Yesterday the Liberal government introduced their much-awaited marriage legislation.
The decision I have come to has been a difficult one. I have spoken to many hundreds in my riding of Calgary Centre-North. I have met with many community leaders including religious leaders from Calgary and representatives of the gay community. I have held an open Town Hall Meeting and I have done my best to understand the legal and theological issues that this decision has raised.
For me, the marriage question is one of individual liberty - of constitutional liberty.
Let's be clear. I have been married to the same woman for 21 years, reflecting my own personal definition of what marriage is. It is also the definition of my own church, the Presbyterian Church of Canada.
It is not, however, the personal definition of many of our fellow citizens who are homosexual and who have sought the protection of the Charter to obtain civil marriage licences from the government.
Fundamentally the question is this: what right do we as a society have to refuse gay Canadians something that the rest of us are entitled to - namely, a civil marriage license.
Set aside the legal debate, and ask the very simple question. What moral or political authority do we have to deny gay Canadians the issuance of a government marriage license?
The answer in my mind is clear. We have no such right at all because whether two people of the same sex marry, and how and whether their gender enters into the relationship, is none of the government's business, providing they do no harm to anyone else.
"Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." - John Stuart Mill
I am a conservative, and this is the philosophy that guides me in public life.
Each of us has the right to fashion our own life to suit our own character without impediment from others, providing we harm no one else and providing we accept the consequences of our own decisions.
If we have the right, as a society, to prohibit homosexual Canadians from civil marriage because their idea of a marriage differs form ours, do we have an equal right to prohibit some Christians, Muslims, or Sikhs from preaching aspects of their faith, which are not shared by the majority of Canadians? By parity of reasoning, would we not have an equally valid entitlement to suppress the literature, political opinions or political association of those who hold views different than our own?
These are the modern liberties of our western society. They are the very liberties that underpin western society, and they are owed to each of us equally and unconditionally.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures that all Canadians must be treated equally at law, including the right to marry. Equally the Charter protects the rights of religions to carry on their faith according to their own doctrine.
The vote for Conservatives is a free one. Stephen Harper has shown courage and leadership and his position has been very clear to Canadians. It is particularly disappointing that Mr. Martin did not have the strength of leadership to allow his entire Caucus to have a free vote on this issue.
I have come to the conclusion that I will stand in defence of the constitutional right of homosexual couples to civil marriage, even though their definition of marriage is not my own. I will be equally vigilant in defending religious marriage and religious freedom, for it is equally clear that neither the Christian community nor the other communities of faith can be compelled to accept or perform same sex marriages. Religious freedom must stand sacrosanct and religious marriage must stand as the exclusive preserve of our communities of faith.
I intend to vigorously support the Conservative Party amendments that would strengthen these protections of religious freedoms.
This decision has been a difficult one. My riding has a diversity of opinions on this question. I appreciate that my decision will not make everybody happy. I will be accountable.
In the final analysis, I have concluded that religious marriage is the authority of the church and that jurisdiction must be jealously guarded. But civil marriage, or governmental marriage, of two Canadians, must be available equally to all. Therefore, I will be voting in favour of this legislation and I will support Conservative Party amendments designed to protect religious freedoms.
by Jim Prentice, M.P. Calgary Centre-North, Feb 2, 2005