On 30 June, the Spanish Parliament voted to legalise same-sex marriages. Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero made a remarkable speech in which he said that the changes were for “a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.” Here are some excerpts, translated by Rex Wockner and quoted by Doug Ireland. Sadly, these are not words I expect to hear from the leader of either of Australia’s main political parties.
We are not legislating, honourable members, for people far away and not known by us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and, our familie at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.
In the poem The Family, our [gay] poet Luis Cernuda was sorry because, “How does man live in denial in vain / by giving rules that prohibit and condemn?”
Today, the Spanish society answers to a group of people who, during many years have, been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, their identity denied, and their liberty oppressed. Today the Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their liberty.
It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone’s triumph. It is also the triumph of those who oppose this law, even though they do not know this yet: because it is the triumph of Liberty. Their victory makes all of us (even those who oppose the law) better people, it makes our society better. Honourable members, there is no damage to marriage or to the concept of family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. On the contrary, what happens is this class of Spanish citizens get the potential to organize their lives with the rights and privileges of marriage and family. There is no danger to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law enhances and respects marriage.
Today, conscious that some people and institutions are in profound disagreement with this change in our civil law, I wish to express that, like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will generate no evil, that its only consequence will be the avoiding of senseless suffering of decent human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of decent human beings is a better society.
With the approval of this Bill, our country takes another step in the path of liberty and tolerance that was begun by the democratic change of government. Our children will look at us incredulously if we tell them that many years ago, our mothers had less rights than our fathers, or if we tell them that people had to stay married against their will even though they were unable to share their lives. Today we can offer them a beautiful lesson: every right gained, each access to liberty has been the result of the struggle and sacrifice of many people that deserve our recognition and praise.
Today we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the unhappiness and humiliation of some of our citizens. Today, for many of our countrymen, comes the day predicted by Kavafis [the great Greek gay poet] a century ago:
Later ’twas said of the most perfect society
someone else, made like me
certainly will come out and act freely.
Speech by Prime Minister Mr Paul Martin in the Canadian Parliament on 16 February 2005, introducting legislation to reinforce the legality of same-sex marriages throughout Canada. The legislation has now, at length, been passed.
I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law. [. . .]
This bill protects minority rights. This bill affirms the Charter guarantee of religious freedom. It is that straightforward, and it is that important. And that is why I stand today before members here and before the people of this country to say: I believe in, and I will fight for, the Charter of Rights. I believe in, and I will fight for, a Canada that respects the foresight and vision of those who created and entrenched the Charter. I believe in, and I will fight for, a future in which generations of Canadians to come, Canadians born here and abroad, will have the opportunity to value the Charter as we do today – as an essential pillar of our democratic freedoms. [. . . ]
We will be influenced by our faith but we also have an obligation to take the widest perspective – to recognize that one of the great strengths of Canada is its respect for the rights of each and every individual, to understand that we must not shrink from the need to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of Canadians in an evolving society. [. . .]
We embrace freedom and equality in theory. We must also embrace them in fact.
[T]here are some who oppose this legislation who would have the government use the ‘notwithstanding’ clause in the Charter of Rights to override the courts and reinstate the traditional definition of marriage. And really, this is the fundamental issue here. [. . . ]
Ultimately, there is only one issue before this House in this debate. For most Canadians, in most parts of our country, same-sex marriage is already the law of the land. Thus, the issue is not whether rights are to be granted. The issue is whether rights that have been granted are to be taken away. [. . . ]
This question does not demand rhetoric. It demands clarity. There are only two legitimate answers – yes or no. Not the demagoguery we have heard, not the dodging, the flawed reasoning, the false options. Just yes or no. Will you take away a right as guaranteed under the Charter? I, for one, will answer that question. I will answer it clearly. I will say no. [. . .]
The Charter is a living document, the heartbeat of our Constitution. It is also a proclamation. It declares that as Canadians, we live under a progressive and inclusive set of fundamental beliefs about the value of the individual. It declares that we all are lessened when any one of us is denied a fundamental right. [. . .]
Let us never forget that one of the reasons that Canada is such a vibrant nation, so diverse, so rich in the many cultures and races of the world, is that immigrants who come here – as was the case with the ancestors of many of us in this chamber – feel free and are free to practice their religion, follow their faith, live as they want to live. No homogenous system of beliefs is imposed on them.
When we as a nation protect minority rights, we are protecting our multicultural nature. We are reinforcing the Canada we value. We are saying, proudly and unflinchingly, that defending rights – not just those that happen to apply to us, not just that everyone approves of, but all fundamental rights – is at the very soul of what it means to be a Canadian.
This is a vital aspect of the values we hold dear and strive to pass on to others in the world who are embattled, who endure tyranny, whose freedoms are curtailed, whose rights are violated. [. . .]
We have not been free from discrimination, bias, unfairness. There have been blatant inequalities. [. . .] Over time, perspectives changed. We evolved, we grew, and our laws evolved and grew with us. That is as it should be. Our laws must reflect equality not as we understood it a century or even a decade ago, but as we understand it today. [. . .]
The people of Canada have worked hard to build a country that opens its doors to include all, regardless of their differences; a country that respects all, regardless of their differences; a country that demands equality for all, regardless of their differences. If we do not step forward, then we step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Together as a nation, together as Canadian Let us step forward.