Renowned McGill ethics professor and same-sex marriage opponent Margaret Somerville once again got an opportunity today to publish on the subject of same-sex marriage with her Globe & Mail column, "If same-sex marriage, why not polygamy?" Here's the link.
Now allow me the opportunity to respond to Somerville's flawed logic.
Somerville correctly states that both same-sex marriage and polygamy deviate significantly from the traditional, one-man-one-woman definition of marriage.
But they deviate in different ways. Same-sex marriage differs from traditional marriage based on the gender of the individuals involved.
Polygamy differs from traditional marriage based on the numbers of the individuals involved.
So yes, same-sex marriage and polygamy are different from traditional marriage, but different for very different reasons. Follow me?
But using Somerville's flawed reasoning, this means both same-sex marriage and polygamy are hopelessly wrong and must not be allowed (albeit, Somerville has used different reasons to reach these conclusions.)
This is phony reasoning. Our society has the right to change the definition of marriage to accommodate same sex couples and, in doing so, end the gender-specific requirements of the traditional definition.
This does not necessitate that we do away with the numerical requirements of the institution as well - namely allowing more than two people.
This may be the case in Somerville's mind, but in reality this is not true. It's sophistry.
It's like saying "All life is sacred, therefore all killing is wrong." But killing is an inevitable aspect of war, and most agree that sometimes war is necessary, therefore killing in war can be justified, unlike say killing for sadistic pleasure. But using Somerville's reasoning technique, both killing in war and killing for pleasure deviate from the original maxim that "All life is sacred". Both are equally wrong. We'd therefore have to conclude that killing in war is unacceptable. Any deviation from the original maxim cannot be tolerated regardless of the unique circumstances and reasons for the deviation.
In the past, Somerville has warned that same-sex marriage jeopardizes children's rights to be raised by and to know their biological parents. I've never been able to understand exactly how a same-sex couple's ability to marry somehow caused other children never to know their parents.
To understand where Somerville is coming from, it helps to understand that much of her work has been anchored in Catholic natural law tradition.
On this issue, she has always struck me as someone who established her conclusion first (same sex marriage is wrong based on my religious beliefs) and then went about creating arguments that backed up that conclusion.
Using the "children" argument, as she does, has a special amount of sentimentality as it tugs at the heartstrings of most parents. "Your children are threatened by homosexuals," is Somerville's basic message. Where have we heard that one before?
By disallowing same-sex marriage in law, the country was discriminating based on sexual orientation, which was banned under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
By disallowing polygamy, no one is facing discrimination, as far as I can tell. The ban applies to everyone.
There are some, including Somerville, who argue that the ban on polygamy could be a violation of the Charter's freedom of religion provisions. The only way to find out for sure is for individuals in polygamous marriages to take their cases to court and fight for their rights, just as gays and lesbians were forced to do.
After assessing the other crucial issues at stake, like the inherent oppression of women in polygamous marriages, intergenerational abuse, brainwashing, etc., would the Supreme Court rule that laws banning polygamy are a violation of freedom of religion and therefore must be struck down? We can only speculate. Based on previous Supreme Court rulings, I find it hard to believe they would rule in such a way. But of course that is an argument for another day.
Somerville has been on a mission for years arguing against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. She's travelled hundreds of miles to appear before numerous parliamentary committees, written countless papers and columns (and is still writing them), given speeches. All to argue that the rights of same-sex couples to equal marriage somehow violate a child's ability to know his or her parents.
Why is Somerville so obsessed with attacking same-sex marriage? Are there no other ethical issues that need attention? I guess only Somerville knows for sure.