Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Gay marriage
June 17, 2006

So let me get this straight. Iraq’s a disaster. Afghanistan’s going sideways. Terrorists are emerging with made-in-Canada credentials, and people are going hungry and homeless in virtually every town in North America.
And our leaders have nothing better to do than try to stop people in love from getting married?
Some people don’t like the idea of gays and lesbians getting married. Then again, some people didn’t like the idea of black Americans riding at the front of the bus, either. It’s all a question of civil rights.
Equality under the law is one of the underpinnings of a just society. Personally, I don’t take that to mean that the law can be used arbitrarily to deny certain groups equality, but that’s how the Bush government, Canada’s Conservatives and 45 individual states interpret the concept in terms of gay marriage. They want marriage laws that deliberately create inequality.
The hard-won right to marry regardless of sexual orientation has been law in Canada for barely a year now. Already, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced his government will revisit the law this fall and put it to a vote in the House of Commons.
In the U.S., gay marriage is still illegal, and the battle to keep it that way is intensifying. Forty-five states have either banned gay marriages outright or are in the process of it. For now, President George Bush’s pitch for a constitutional amendment reserving marriage solely for heterosexuals was stalled Thursday when the U.S. Senate voted it down, but he’ll no doubt take another run at it.
“Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society,” said Bush in recent media reports.
Bush may truly believe that, in which case there are still many more things to worry about than gay marriage.
Forty-four per cent of married U.S. couples don’t make it to their 30th wedding anniversary. In Canada, the breakdown rate is 38 per cent. More than a quarter of our marriages fail in the first three years.
Not only do we divorce five times more often than we did in the 1960s, fewer of us even bother with marriage. In the last 25 years, the number of common-law couples in Canada grew from six per cent of all couples to 14 per cent.
If Bush and Harper see the marriage of a man and woman as the backbone of our society, any of those stats ought to really alarm them. Those trends will have an impact on marriage far greater than anything gay couples could ever provoke. And if not that, then any number of ongoing and looming disasters - war, pestilence, plague, the usual.
But no. We’re still talking about stopping gay people from marrying. Harper is actually putting Canada into the position of considering whether to roll back civil rights. That’s scary.
In Canada, we infringe on people’s rights only for the common good. But where is the harm to society from gay marriage? Marriage is a battered institution, and if anything stands only to be strengthened from gays and lesbians embracing it.
We prevent 14-year-olds from driving and 16-year-olds from drinking, because we know for a fact that young people can wreak havoc without some societal restraints. We curtail rights in thousands of other ways for young and old alike. You can’t park where you want, live where you want or dicker over whether to give the government a share of your income. You can’t call yourself a doctor if you aren’t one.
But there’s a reason for each of those laws. There’s somebody in an office somewhere who can explain to you exactly why a law was created, and at the root of all of them is an intent to protect the common good.
Marriage has rules, too. But they were developed for clear reasons - in many cases, to prevent families from marrying each other. Perfectly good biological explanations for laws like that.
The case for prohibiting gay marriage isn’t nearly so clear. Where are the stats around societal harm? What’s the concern? What’s the compelling case for infringing on people’s civil rights?
So far, the debate seems to centre solely on whether “marriage” is a term that only heterosexuals can lay claim to. If that’s the only question, then there’s only one answer. We can’t tolerate laws that encroach on civil rights for no valid and quantifiable societal reason.
Conservative movements in both the U.S. and Canada have affirmed that strong families matter. Loving, supported couples raising happy, connected children will change the world.
And how wonderful that a brand-new population is coming forward to remind us of the power of marriage in creating those families. May they find the secrets that too often elude the modern-day heterosexual.
In the meantime, let’s move on. We’ve got much bigger things to worry about than love.

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