Thursday, April 17, 2008

No mistake: Why same-sex marriage is important

Columnist Michael Coren wrote yesterday in the National Post why legalizing same-sex marriage is Canada's biggest policy mistake. For a social conservative to ignore the abortion issue and level this charge against loving same-sex couples is truly revealing. How much venom do you harbour, Mr. Coren?

Let me first deconstruct Coren's re-hashed and flawed arguments. For one, he never fully explains why same-sex marriage (or SSM) is such a mistake. Instead he first trots out the new, "I'm a Christian and I'm a victim" argument, the now oft-heard refrain from the free world's former oppressors.

"Although this is a valid and vital debate about social policy, anyone critiquing the [SSM] status quo is likely to be marginalized as hateful, extreme or simply mad...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."

Sounds like how Christians like Coren treated gays for centuries if you ask me. Yet of course Coren's ability to publish such an article in a national newspaper is proof itself that he and others like him are hardly being "silenced."

He uses very slippery reasoning when he writes, "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."

With this, Coren implies that "common law marriage" somehow led to same-sex marriage. But this is false history. In fact, common law marriages paved the way in the 1990s for same sex spousal rights and responsibilities. Judges and even some politicians rightly deduced that to provide spousal benefits to non-married heterosexuals living together in conjugal relationships, or as "common law couples", but not provide such benefits to equivalent same-sex couples, was discriminatory and violated equality guarantees in the Charter of Rights.

Yes, that pesky Charter of Rights that forces lawmakers to treat all citizens, including LGBT citizens, equally.

So yes, straight common law relationships made it possible for same-sex couples to attain some status in Canadian society, but they didn't necessarily lead to same-sex marriage. That came later after lengthy court fights.

Coren later writes, "As for polygamy, it's making something of a comeback -- and here begin the objections. 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."

Coren seems to think that courts will rule on polygamy simply based on theory, that judges will look past the inherent inequality and abuse involved in real-life polygamous relationships and deem them legal marriages under the law. Maybe in theory Coren has a point, but in reality, Charter cases like Coren implies are coming must be led by living, breathing people, individuals who claim their rights are being denied them unfairly. Coren, himself, admits that no one in this country currently is willing to lead this legal fight.

Despite this, he assumes polygamy is inevitable. I assume this is why Coren believes SSM was Canada's biggest policy mistake. But Coren's doomsday scenario is foolhardy: "If love is the only criterion for marriage who are we to judge the love between a man and his wives?" Again, because it's impossible for such relationships to be anything but sexist and abusive. It's like arguing that the pedophile loves his young victims (yet Coren wisely doesn't go there yet.)

This brings me back to the essential issue here: that marriage is a unique commitment between two adults who love each other. Most Canadians embrace this definition and have for quite some time. While most heterosexuals I know believe that children are best raised within a committed and loving marriage, most also believe that marriages without children are just as valid and worthy of equal recognition.

Coren raises the false argument that common law relationships somehow undermined traditional marriages, lowered the standards, as he put it. What he should've written is that the notion that childless straight marriages are equal to other straight marriages has undermined the traditional definition, or at least his traditional definition. Many heterosexuals incapable or unwilling to raise children are still able to marry and meet the standards of traditional marriage.

Coren assumes that marriage is only about the children. Most Canadians disagree with him. Hence the inherent flaw in his argument.

He talks about the dangers of slippery slopes. But he ignores the dangerous slippery slope in his own argument: if marriage is only about the children, this would invalidate all straight marriages without children. Heterosexuals of a certain age, long past their child-rearing years, would also be ineligible for marriage, by Coren's definition. If we're not willing to ban all heterosexuals who can't or won't have children within marriage, how can we ban same-sex couples (who normally don't have their own children either) from marriage?

This contradiction continues to be ignored by Coren and others like him. I do agree that the best place to raise children is within a loving, committed marriage. But I, like most Canadians, don't believe that children are essential to marriage.

In the end, Coren's circular arguments don't amount to much. He still hates gays and resents the gains we have made in this society.

To me, same sex marriage is a sign of Canada's generosity of spirit. It means that LGBT citizens are equally valued. It means we too can and should seek out love and lifetime commitment, should we want it. It means we should be able to live lives as full and happy as any heterosexual.

Gays and lesbians are born that way. We didn't choose to be who and what we are. We've struggled greatly on the fringes for too long. Same-sex marriage is a message to all LGBT citizens that our government believes we are truly equal with others.

Discrimination in law, as Coren proposes, has grave consequences, as we know. If we are to tolerate such discrimination, it better be for good reasons. Coren provides none in his column against same-sex couples.


Dean P said...

His other problem really is, other than the "think of the children" argument, that he doesn't actually indicate what harm there is to society. The polygamy argument--as you (and so many others) have pointed out--is just plain silly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt, I can't seem to leave a trackback so I'll just tell you I linked to your article on my blog. Good job!

Matt Guerin said...

Thanks, Bruce.

B said...

That is a really interesting, and well written article. Going back to your point on common-law marriage, if you need more information about making a Statutory Declaration of a Common Law Union in Toronto, Canada, see Toronto Notary Public Discusses Statutory Declaration of Common Law Union