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Gay Marriage Rights: The Canadian thing to do

Bill extends full citizenship to gay men and lesbians

For a fifth and final time in the past two years, the House Of Commons has voted to affirm equal marriage rights for same-sex couples in Canada.

This is a proud and exciting day to be a Canadian. Just days before the Canada Day holiday, we are affirming once again our world-wide reputation as a country that is open, inclusive and welcoming.

Not only have courts ruled that excluding same-sex families from civil marriage is unconstitutional, but Canada’s elected representatives have clearly and decisively upheld our Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. Our Parliamentarians have said that the Canadian thing to do is to protect religious freedom, to ensure that religious marriage is the exclusive purview of faith communities without infringement by the state. Our Parliamentarians have also said that the Canadian thing to do is to end discrimination and to extend full citizenship to lesbian and gay people.

Today we salute the political leaders who have had the courage to stand on principle and defend the Canadian way. You will go down in history as champions of human rights. In particular, we would like to acknowledge Prime Minister Paul Martin, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, NDP leader Jack Layton, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, former prime minister Jean Chrétien and former justice minister Martin Cauchon.

We salute those who, over the years, have had the tenacity to challenge their own governments. Those who – as citizens, taxpayers and members of the community – insisted that they deserved equal treatment under the law. The first same-sex couple in Canada to go to city hall for a marriage licence did so over 30 years ago. This has been a long and arduous road. For those who have been at the forefront of this struggle long before it was a view shared by the majority, we express profound appreciation. Many took on this battle at considerable personal cost. Many have not lived to see this day.

But the biggest champions are the millions of individual lesbian and gay people who live their lives on a daily basis with openness and honesty. It is the simple act of simply being that has made today’s victory possible. Because of individuals’ commitment to live their lives matter-of-factly they have demonstrated this reality: lesbian and gay people are your brothers and sisters, neighbours, friends, co-workers. At the end of the day, no argument in favour of exclusion can withstand what people can see with their own eyes – that it is wrong to treat people they care about in a way that diminishes their personhood.

A word to those who greet this vote with disappointment. Many of those who opposed this law did so because they see a world that is changing rapidly. They worry there may not be a place in this changing world for them or for their beliefs. All of us who supported this legislation have a special responsibility to make clear to our fellow Canadians that we all benefit from the principles that underpin this bill. The genius of Canada, almost unparalleled in the world, is to build a shared identity out of our respect for each other’s differences. No one minority is diminished when another minority is acknowledged.

We call on the Senate Of Canada to give speedy passage to this legislation. After all, the Commons have already voted five times to affirm equal marriage. After two-and-a-half years of debate, Canadians want Parliament to finally decide.

In a generation, Canadians will look back on a time when lesbian and gay people were denied full citizenship, just as we look back on the days when women or Aboriginal people could not vote or times when Canadian citizens were interned because of ethnic origin. We will talk about these days and this battle. We will be proud, as Canadians, that we rejected rejection, that we ended exclusion, that we said to [gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans] people: there are no second-class Canadians, lesbian and gay people are full members of the community, without caveat or exceptions. We will long remember this proud day.