Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gay Marriage Hardly "Canada's Biggest Mistake"

But it's not altogether unsurprising Michael Coren would think so

It hasn't taken Michael Coren very much effort to be one of Canada's most controversial media figures.

From managing to get blackballed by the CBC to suggsting we should drop a Nuclear weapon in Iran, Coren has proven to be a walking, talking controversy machine -- one only marginally more worrying than Peter Worthington.

As such, it's unsurprising that Coren would use the National Post's Canada's Biggest Mistake series to rock the boat on a very controversial topic: same-sex marriage.

Not-so-shockingly, he's not a fan. He does, however, have some lucid moments in the course of his ruminations:

"What makes the national mistake of legalizing same-sex marriage unique in Canadian history is that to even discuss the issue is considered by many, particularly our elites, to be at the very least in extraordinarily bad taste. Although this is a valid and vital debate about social policy, anyone critiquing the status quo is likely to be marginalized as hateful, extreme or simply mad. Social conservatives aren’t just wrong, they’re evil."
Social conservatives do indeed carry a demonstrable stigma. Labeled as selfish, uncaring and compassionless, social conservatives have often had to tiptoe around their own views.

Very recently, they represented a group that had largely been pushed to the margins of Canada's political discourse, and literally had to pull the rug out from under Canada's conservative elites in order to get their voices heard.

While Canada's social conservatives enjoy a more secure place in Canadian political discourse -- yet never quite as comfortable as they'd like -- the stigma remains, and that stigma has underscored the entire debate regarding same-sex marriage.

"The discussion, we are told, is over. Which is what triumphalist bullies have said for centuries after they win a battle. In this case, the intention is to marginalize anyone who dares to still speak out. In other words, to silence them."
Clearly, the discussion is not over. The fact that Coren is discussing the matter at all -- let alone under the heading of "Canada's biggest mistake" -- is evidence enough of that.

But one also remembers the Conservative party's controversial move to reopen the issue of same-sex marriage for debate in the House of Commons. One also remembers that Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself declared the issue closed, once the motion -- which was debated in the House -- was defeated. It had been both supported and opposed by members of both the Liberals and Conservatives.

Canadians have had plenty of opportunity to discuss same-sex marriage -- once while the same-sex marriage-supporting Liberals were in power, then again with the largely same-sex marriage-opposing Conservatives in power. And now, again in the pages of the National Post.

How much more discussion does Coren really want?

"It’s important to emphasize that this is not really about homosexuality at all, and has nothing to do with homosexual people living together. Opponents of same-sex marriage may have ethical and religious objections to homosexuality, but they are irrelevant to the central argument. Which is not about the rights of a sexual minority but the status and meaning of marriage.

Indeed, the deconstruction of marriage began not with the gay community asking for the right to marry but with the heterosexual world rejecting it. The term "common-law marriage" said it all. Marriage is many things, but it is never common. Yet with this semantic and legal revolution, desire and convenience replaced commitment and dedication. The qualifications, so to speak, were lowered.
Perhaps so, but it was done long in advance of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

And while common law marriage certainly represented a milestone in the eventual legal recognition of same-sex marriage -- same-sex couples were recognized as entitled to the benefits of common law marriage in 1999 -- the argument is largely moot.

Common law marriage, like same-sex marriage was a legal reaction to the need for individuals under many emerging familial models to be legally recognized. It was a recognition of the evolving nature of the Canadian family.

Certainly social conservatives can't be expected to appreciate that -- certainly not with any enthusiasm -- but the fact is that social conservatives aren't the only ones with a stake in the matter.

"And one does indeed have to qualify for marriage; just as one has, for example, to qualify for a pension or a military medal. People who have not reached the age of retirement don’t qualify for a pension, people who don’t serve in the armed forces don’t qualify for a military medal. It’s not a question of equality but requirement. A human right is intrinsic, a social institution is not.

The four great and historic qualifications for marriage always have been number, gender, age and blood. Two people, male and female, over a certain age and not closely related. Mainstream and responsible societies have sometimes changed the age of maturity, but incest has always been condemned and, by its nature, died out because of retardation.
Yet this doesn't change the number of people who live together under marriage-like conditions -- people who will continue to do so whether the law recognizes it or not.

It isn't the role of the state to rule which human relationships are legitimate and which ones aren't. Refusing to recognize common law or same-sex marriages is akin to precisely that.

"As for polygamy, it’s making something of a comeback — and here begin the objections."
In all reality, the nail-biting over polygamy in Canada is overrated. Then-Prime Minister Paul Martin commissioned a study into the legality of polygamy mere weeks after commissioning the study that culminated in the legalization of same-sex marriage, and polygamy hasn't been legalized yet.

Beyond that, any comeback for polygamy -- imagined, real, or otherwise -- has little to do with same-sex marriage. That is a recognition demand of an entirely different -- often religious -- nature.

"Whenever this is mentioned by critics of same-sex marriage we are accused of using the slippery-slope argument. Sorry, some slopes are slippery. Polygamy is an ancient tradition within Islam — and was in Sephardic Judaism and some Asian cultures. When the precedent of gay marriage is combined with the freedom of religion defence, the courts will have a difficult time rejecting it.

At the moment, the Muslim community is not sufficiently politically comfortable to pursue the issue; and the clearly deranged polygamous sects on the aesthetic as well as geographical fringes of Canadian society cloud any reasonable debate. But the argument will certainly come and the result is largely inevitable. If love is the only criterion for marriage who are we to judge the love between a man and his wives?

The state, though, should have a duty to judge and to do so based on its own interests. The most significant of which is its continued existence, meaning that we have to produce children. As procreation is the likely, if not essential, result of marriage between a man and a woman, it is in the interests of the state to encourage marriage.
But it's also important to mention that same-sex marriage and polygamy each present different dilemmas to society. Same-sex marriage effectively separates marriage from sexuality -- there's nothing in legislation to suggest that bisexuals couldn't get hitched under a same-sex marriage, for example.

But polygamy presents the dilemma of sexual abuse prevalent within many polygamist religious sects. Recent events in Texas only underscore this.

At least when domestic abuse arises within a same-sex relationship -- and often it's a good deal more brutal than within heterosexual relationships, according to sociological study -- it's between adults of consulting age. It's unlikely any eleven-year-olds will be forced to marry fifty-year-olds under Canada's same-sex marriage legislation.

Yet even in the case where physical abuse is being perpetrated between adult partners, the strongest remedy the law can legitimately -- or reasonably -- offer is the jailing of the offending partner.

The law has no ability to terminate a relationship against the wills of those within it. That should be deemed unacceptable to all Canadians -- social conservatives included -- on absolute terms.

On the flip side, it should be deemed unacceptable to all Canadians -- again, social conservatives included -- for the state to encourage (or coerce) legal marriage on anyone, as Coren seems to suggest. Again, this should be deemed unacceptable on absolute terms.

"Of course lesbian couples can have an obliging friend assist them in having a baby, and gay men can adopt or have an obliging friend have one for them, but this is hardly the norm and hardly going to guarantee the longevity of a stable society. Just as significant, it smashes the fundamental concept of a child being produced through an act of love. The donation of bodily fluid by an anonymous person, or that obliging friend again, is an act not of love but of lust, indifference, profit or a mere, well, helping hand."
Yet plenty of children are already born as a result of acts of lust, not love, and ironically, it's unlikely that Coren would object to those parents getting married. As a matter of fact, he thinks the state should encourage it.

"For the first time not only in Canadian but in world history we are purposefully creating and legitimizing families where there will be either no male or no female role model and parent. Anyone who speaks of uncles, aunts, communities and villages raising children has no real understanding of family life. Single-parent families exist and are sometimes excellent and, obviously, not every mother/father family is a success. But to consciously create unbalanced families where children can never enjoy the profound difference between man and woman, mother and father, is dangerous social engineering.

We made a terrible mistake, and may not appreciate the full consequences for a generation. We allowed emotion to obscure logic and belittled anyone who appeared out of step with the current fashion. To marry without good reason in regrettable, to divorce good reasoning from public policy is a disgrace.
Michael Coren is wrong. Our society made a terrible mistake when it outlawed interracial relationships (just think what repealing that has done for the porn industry -ed). Our society made a terrible mistake when it outlawed homosexuality. Our society has made plenty of mistakes in the name of social conservatism.

Our society has spent the last forty years fixing those mistakes. It was only a matter of time that we fixed the mistake -- made countless years ago -- of not recognizing homosexuals as full and equal members of our society.

And fortunately for Michael Coren, he's never lived with the consequences of those mistakes -- countless other people have.

Coren's objections aside, same-sex marriage is hardly "Canada's biggest mistake".

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