Monday, January 31, 2005

Time to redefine the question

Babble on.

My Chief Ottawa Correspondent (Sabu, Hunter of the Narwhal), remarked recently that I haven’t weighed in yet on the same-sex marriage debate. Given the fact that I’ll generally take a shaky and unjustified stand on any given issue, even when no stand at all is perfectly sufficient, he was understandably surprised. Well, my friend, have no fear – The Babbler is about to take a firm editorial position in that puddle of quicksand over there. Watch, and get ready to throw me a rope.

I don’t feel like I have a dog in the same-sex marriage fight, to be perfectly honest with you. Oh, the so-cons will say I need to man the bastions against the onslaught of immorality poised to overrun Christendom, and the Jack Layton crowd will say everyone has a vested interest in seeing the victory of human rights over homophobic bigotry. I think they’re both full of bunk.

The group doing the most damage to ‘traditional marriage’ right now is married folk who don’t take the commitment seriously enough. You demean marriage when you cheat on your husband every time you go on a business trip, or when you get divorced a year after you got married, or when you put rings on each others’ fingers just because you’re twenty-eight and you’ve been cohabitating for four years now and all your friends are getting hitched. Liz Taylor and Britney Spears have done more to damage the institution of marriage than Rosie O’Donnell ever will.

The crowd screaming ‘discrimination’ and ‘human rights’ is equally daft. Marriage is discriminatory, and it should quite frankly remain that way. The discriminatory nature of marriage won’t change just because you suddenly let folks from the Pride Parade into the club. By defining marriage as a union of two consenting adults of distant-enough blood relation (regardless of sex), you may include same-sex partners, but you still discriminate against polygamists, beastialists (I may have just coined that term), pedophiles, and incestuous crazies, among others. What of their supposed ‘rights’? If a definition is to be worthy of the name, it will include some and exclude others. To suggest that embracing one particular group - like gays - while continuing to reject others will magically make marriage ‘inclusive’ is just politically-correct hogwash.

So, how would I solve the dilemma? Well, first I’d get government out of the business of marriage altogether: civil unions for everyone.

Marriage is too loaded and unclear a term for use in this debate. It’s an anachronistic throwback to the days when the state assumed everyone had Judeo-Christian beliefs. In today’s society, when you talk about marriage, you have to ask: are you talking about Catholic marriage – the type you can only do once unless one spouse dies or the marriage is annulled? Are you talking about financial obligations, like common-law marriage? Are you talking about both, or about something else entirely?

I say we remove the debate as far as possible from the passionate traditional and religious undercurrents that swirl around the term marriage, and debate the terms of civil unions in this country. Let churches decide whose unions merit God’s blessing (they're going to do it anyhow), and leave the completely separate legal rights and obligations to the state.

At that point, the question becomes more clear: which types of relationships should receive legal protection in this country, and why? Which should tolerated, but accorded no special favoured status? Finally, which should be prohibited?

Personally, once the question is clarified, I believe child-bearing unions of two or more should receive special status, and that the status should attach to the children. That is to say, a widow, widower or single-parent should retain the special status even in the absence of a spouse. Society has a vested interest in promoting decent child-rearing, because it contributes to the continuation of the species and to the health of society. If you don’t believe procreation is something society should encourage (because of global overpopulation or some such reason), we part ways here. Likewise, if you believe only a man and a woman in a long-term relationship should be supported in their efforts to raise children, we part ways here.

Childless unions – of heterosexual, homosexual, polyandrous, polygamous, and even incestuous partners – should be tolerated, but not sanctioned by the state. Again, I must stress: feel free to sanction or censure whatever you want in your church. Incestuous procreation should be prohibited, for the obvious genetic reasons. Consent should remain a requirement for any union within the parameters of this discussion – children, animals, and the severely mentally-disabled can’t give consent, and so should remain barred from any relationship of this nature.

I’m guessing many of my readers are scraping jaws off desks right now. So much for tidy political categorizations, eh? Now that I’ve staked myself out in the cold, you are free to begin throwing rocks from both left and right.

Babble off.

18 Comments:

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Sean McCormick said...

"Incestuous procreation should be prohibited, for the obvious genetic reasons."

So you're saying that same-sex marriages of relatives are okay? And what about marriages between relatives who are medically certified to be sterile?

 
At 8:37 PM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

No marriage, Sean - civil unions, if anything. And who cares if they shack up together, as long as we're not giving any special recognition in law to their relationship? Remember, I'm proposing three distinct categories: sanction, tolerate, and prohibit. The examples you propose would fall into the 'tolerate' category.

 
At 8:58 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

On a first read, that was startlingly brilliant.... or else completely loony. Either way I like it.

Damian for Prime Minister!

 
At 9:38 PM, Blogger Mike Brock said...

Get ready for the hate-down, because like me, you're clearly an intolerant, homophobic bigot. There is no other rational explaination. Just take it from this guy who e-mailed me yesterday:

"You ******* disgust me you right-wing piece of garbage. Human rights are human rights. Don't think because you are too much of a chicken**** to come out and admit it that you are somehow not the bigot that we all know you to be. People like you belong down in America with the rest of the rednecks"

 
At 12:44 AM, Blogger david said...

Good post, with your permission I want to print it and show it to some of my Conservative friends. Personally, I think the eventual impact wil be less than the bicycle helmet law. But I do have a problem, do you allow queer couples to adopt children, or parent children? See the BBC news "Non-sex genes link to 'gay trait'". A University of Illinois team say there is "no one gay gene" they also said that ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS are also likely to be involved. Its interesting, maybe they're not so special as they thought! Well I'll be on my way, thanks for the space, David.

 
At 3:57 AM, Blogger Japnaam Singh said...

Insightful post, Damian.

Just one quick thought... I remember reading a statement that James Moore put out in December, immediately after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage and in it, before defending his decision to vote in favour of SSM, he stated:

In an ideal world, the federal government would not be in the marriage business at all. What would be established would be registered domestic partnerships or civil unions for all Canadians, and the word 'marriage' would be fenced off from politics and left in the hands of religious institutions. However, Canada's constitution mandates that the federal government define the word 'marriage', and that definition must respect the Charter principle that all Canadians must be treated equally under the law. In a perfect world, the two principles of equality and respecting the origins of the word 'marriage' would be met with registered domestic partnerships or civil unions for all couples. However, this compromise is not possible given Canada's current legal framework.

I assume your position is similar to his. However, after reading his statement, it seems obvious that constitutional change would have be required in order to implement your ideas... which would be alright, in a perfect world, but the idea of ammending the constitution to implement civil unions seems impossible, and even unnecessary in terms of effort.

Since the constitution does require a definition for something called "marriage", what do you propose given Canada's current legal framework?

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger Alan said...

The Constitution Act, 1867, states:

91. ... it is hereby declared that (notwithstanding anything in this Act) the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say...

26. Marriage and Divorce.

Where does it say that the federal government must define marriage? This section grants exclusive jurisdiction to legislate with respect to marriage, under which jurisdiction, in my opinion, would be subsumed the exclusive jurisdiction to legislate with respect to civil unions. Alternatively, as I would prefer, they could simply stay out of the matter altogether and focus their attention where it should be - on getting out of my hair and my wallet.

Occam's Carbuncle

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger Declan said...

Here comes a few rocks Damian - feel free to duck or grab a bat (I'm not sure if they're coming from the left or the right - aren't those economic terms?) Anyway...

"By defining marriage as a union of two consenting adults of distant-enough blood relation (regardless of sex), you may include same-sex partners, but you still discriminate against polygamists, beastialists (I may have just coined that term), pedophiles, and incestuous crazies, among others."

Not to put words in their mouth, but isn't that the point gay activists are making? That their relationships are equivalent to heterosexual ones - not pedophilia or incest?

As for your plan, given that a) Everyone wants to call their committed relationships a marriage and b) everyone belongs to the state and c) Not everyone belongs to a religion and d) there is only one state and e) there are lots of different religions, wouldn't it make more sense for the state to use the word marriage and for each religion to be free to pick its own word? 'Holy Sacrament of Matrimony' has a nice ring to it.

It's the same as your solution only this way everybody wins. Of coure if the churches wanted to still use the word 'marriage', they could, in my book - I think I can manage to sort out the confusion.

As for special status for those with kids, I'm not sure what you mean. A monetary benefit (like the Child Tax Credit)? An honourary title (like 'Parent')?

And you haven't really said what to do about all those issues (spousal benefits, wills, etc.) where there are 'rights' which currently go with being married that don't have anything to do with children. Are we just going to scrap all of these? Does that seem realistic? Would churches go along with turning their ceremony into one that has been emptied of all legal and social impact?

Maybe I'm just confused, but your proposal sounds far more radical than allowing gays to get married does.

 
At 1:50 PM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Thanks for commenting, Declan. You hit on a number of points, and I'd like to deal with them one at a time.

- Gay activists may want to equate their relationships to heterosexual ones, but many Canadians don't. Please also note that I'm not equating anyone's relationships with pedophelia or incest. I'm listing a number of types of relationship whose only common thread is that they're currently excluded from the definition of civil marriage.

- You've hit the nail on the head with your point that everyone wants to call their relationship 'marriage'. If I'm wrong, please correct me, but I think religion had dibs on the term long before the Government of Canada did. If I could hop in a time machine, I'd go back to when the laws of Canada first spoke of 'marriage' and change it to 'civil union' so we wouldn't get two different ideas (a religious sacrament and a civil contract) confused, and two different groups fighting over the same term. I'm not religious, but I don't feel it's fair for churches to be forced to give up what was their term in the first place.

- As far as 'spousal benefits' and such, you're right, I've really opened up a hornet's nest. From a practical standpoint, the ripples from my changes would be so far-reaching as to preclude their adoption. Having said that, I believe you should be able to list anyone as a beneficiary of dental, pension, whatever benefits. Same with wills. Your property, your choice of how it's handled. But as far as government policy that encourages people to enter into one type of relationship or another, I don't see how it can be justified. Why should the state favour two men living together over three men living together, or three women and a man, or whatever other permutation you'd like to cook up? Where is society's interest in all this? I'd say society only has a vested interest when a union produces children, so that's the only relationship it should actively promote. So you're right, this is more radical than gay marriage.

I didn't say it would be easier, I just think it would be more fair.

 
At 4:38 PM, Blogger Declan said...

"Gay activists may want to equate their relationships to heterosexual ones, but many Canadians don't"

But that's really the debate isn't it - whether same-sex relationships are valid (like heterosexual ones) or invalid (like pedophilia and incest)? By saying that the definition should remain discriminatory and listing same-sex marriage along with pedophilia and incest as things to be excluded you *are* equating them.

Let me make this clearer, would you agree with the following paragraph:

---
The crowd screaming ‘discrimination’ and ‘human rights’ is equally daft. Marriage is discriminatory, and it should quite frankly remain that way. The discriminatory nature of marriage won’t change just because you suddenly let folks with black skin into the club. By defining marriage as a union of two consenting adults of distant-enough blood relation (regardless of race), you may include black people, but you still discriminate against polygamists, beastialists (I may have just coined that term), pedophiles, and incestuous crazies, among others. What of their supposed ‘rights’? If a definition is to be worthy of the name, it will include some and exclude others. To suggest that embracing one particular group - like black people - while continuing to reject others will magically make marriage ‘inclusive’ is just politically-correct hogwash.
----

Also, your suggestion that doing what's in the best interests of Canadians today and in the future is less important than respecting who got dibs on a word by using it first over a hundred years ago is one I can't agree with. Personally I think the state and the church can share the word as they have done for quite a long time now, but if one party does have to give way to reduce confusion, it makes more sense for it to be the church.

Finally, I think your post is a bit disingenuous in that it sems to offer an opinion on a practical matter (don't allow gays to marry) but this is based on a hypothetical society (where marriage is nothing but a church sacrement like reconciliation or communion) not on our actual reality.

It was interesting reading though.

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Declan, I'm disappointed you've fallen back into the same old rhetorical rut I'm trying to drag us out of.

But that's really the debate isn't it - whether same-sex relationships are valid (like heterosexual ones) or invalid (like pedophilia and incest)? By saying that the definition should remain discriminatory and listing same-sex marriage along with pedophilia and incest as things to be excluded you *are* equating them.You need to go back and read my post all over again. My solution puts homosexual relationships on an equal footing with heterosexual ones in the eyes of the state. Putting words in my mouth that are clearly contradictory to what I actually wrote doesn't help your credibility.

As far as your substitution of 'black' for 'gay' in a paragraph from my post, take the first sentence out, and it's still true. My point was that defining something - anything - is an exclusionary process. The definition of blue excludes all things not blue. The minute I include all things not blue, it ceases to be a definition with any meaning. Just because I decide to include some shades of bluish purple in the definition doesn't mean the definition is suddenly non-discriminatory.

I've heard the argument before that today's gay rights movement is akin to the black civil rights movement of the 60's. I'm sure there are a great many parallels. But the one element missing, in terms of the marriage debate, is the element of religion. I don't know of a single world religion that regards being born black as a sin. In at least this one area, the the analogy doesn't hold.

As far as your assertion that endorsing SSM is "doing what's in the best interests of Canadians today and in the future", I have to say you're going to need to do better than simply stating that's true. Again, a great many in this country would not agree.

And for some reason, I feel I need to say this once again: if gays are allowed to marry (and I'd bet a month's wages SSM will be firmly enshrined in law before summer) I won't lose a wink of sleep over it. When I said "I don't feel like I have a dog in this fight" I meant it. But there are a lot of people who do feel passionately about this issue, and so I thought I'd knock down some of the more ridiculous lines of argument from both sides, and use the issue as an excuse to open up a whole new debate: which relationships should the state have ANY interest in, and with what justification?

The key elements I've come up with are kids and consent. Other than that, gov't should butt right out.

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Declan said...

Sorry Damian, I certainly appreciate that your suggested approach (while I think it's crazy) would not be particularly discriminatory. My only (moral) concern with it is that by letting churches control the word marriage you negatively impact all the people who aspire to be married but either don't believe in God or don't live a lifestyle approved by the Church.

Whereas, if you let the state controls the word then everybody can get married.

The main point I was trying to make is that the word discimination has a number of meanings. From dictionary.com:

v. tr. 2. To distinguish by noting differences;
differentiate: unable to discriminate colors.

This is the definition of the word you are using.

But when the daft screaming crowd you refer to in your post uses the word, they are referring to this definition:

v. intr. 2. To make distinctions on the basis of class or category without regard to individual merit; show preference or prejudice: was accused of discriminating against women; discriminated in favor of his cronies.

So the point is that to differentiate between allowing heterosexual marriage and not allowing same-sex marriage is discriminatory - because both have equal merit (are equally valid). But to differentiate between heterosexual marriage and incest is not discriminatory because these do not have equal merit (validity).

That's why, based on this definition, what you wrote could be seen as equating same-sex marriage with incest, but I should have clarified in my last comment that you were using a different definition rather than saying you equated the two (which I only meant in terms of your argument), so my apologies.


"As far as your assertion that endorsing SSM is "doing what's in the best interests of Canadians today and in the future", I have to say you're going to need to do better than simply stating that's true."

To clarify, my reference to the 'best interests...' was only saying that, if we have to choose between the state or the church getting the right to use the word marriage, that we give it to the state (for the reasons I described in my first comment and again in this one).

"I've heard the argument before that today's gay rights movement is akin to the black civil rights movement of the 60's. I'm sure there are a great many parallels. But the one element missing, in terms of the marriage debate, is the element of religion. I don't know of a single world religion that regards being born black as a sin. In at least this one area, the analogy doesn't hold."

All I'll say to this is that 50 years ago the Catholic church still thought being left-handed was a sin. And there are certainly religions in the world which still do.

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger John the Mad said...

"All I'll say to this is that 50 years ago the Catholic church still thought being left-handed was a sin. And there are certainly religions in the world which still do."

What's this? I'm following the discussion with great interest and then this clinker. As a 53 year old left-handed Catholic, and former seminarian, I have never heard this howler.

I was three when you say this was the teaching of the Church and I wasn't reading theology then, but I have since. Was it a venial, or a mortal sin, Declan? I don't suppose you can provide some attribution for this one. Is this one of the silly, non-historical things found in the Da Vinci Code, perhaps? Sinister forces indeed.

 
At 2:35 AM, Blogger Declan said...

Actually John, it was anecdotal evidence based on my left-handed Mother being forced to use her right hand to write at her Catholic boarding school (in Ireland).

If you want something slightly less anecdotal, see here(5th paragraph).

 
At 2:06 PM, Blogger RightGirl said...

An excellent post. I didn't want to get married. There was no moral obligation to do so, because there will be no children in my union. But I didn't want to lose Mr. Right, who is from the UK. So we had a choice to make, thanks to immigration laws on both sides of the Atlantic: Get married, or say goodbye. We chose marriage. A civil ceremony, no less. Just enough to be legally viable. And three years later, we have no intention of calling it quits. For us, though, we don't feel it should have been forced. Save the blessings for those who are raising children.

RG

 
At 12:51 PM, Blogger John the Mad said...

Declan:
I've been sick in bed for a day. I've now read the article in the Wikkipedia encyclopedia that you cited.

"Until the latter part of the twentieth century, Roman Catholic nuns in American elementary schools (and possibly elsewhere) would punish children for using their left hand to write, typically by slapping their left hand with a ruler if they attempted to pick up a pen with it. Left-handedness was interpreted as a sign of Satanic influence, and thus prohibited."

Sorry, this anecdotal citation is not illustrative of the teaching of the Church on this, or any other, matter. It is true that both secular and religious schoolteachers encouraged left-handed children to write with their right hands. There was a practical reason for this. Back then, most schools still used straight pens whose nibs had to be dipped in ink. All school desks had inkwells. Once applied the ink did not dry instantly, as with a ballpoint pen. Now observe how we lefties hold a pen. If the ink was still wet, we tracked the side of our palm through the wet ink and smudged the whole page. I remember doing this on a regular basis.

None of this had to do with Satanic influences, though I do hold the invention of the ballpoint pen to be an example of Divine mercy at work. The Church has never taught that left-handedness was the work of Old Grimy Face.

 
At 3:19 AM, Blogger Declan said...

We're straying far away from the main point but anyway,

OK John, I accept that opposing left-handedness wasn't an official Church position (I'm certainly no expert on the history of Church doctrine), but there were still lots of people within the church who held the beliefs I'm talking about.

Your assertion that it was all just about smudging ink, that doesn't hold with either my own personal experience or that of people I've talked to, where it has either been clearly stated or implied that the problem was that left-handedness was unnnatural and not what God intended.

At any rate, I probably could have made my point better in another way, as this long digression attests.

 
At 4:14 PM, Blogger John the Mad said...

Declan:

"Your assertion that it was all just about smudging ink, that doesn't hold with either my own personal experience or that of people I've talked to, where it has either been clearly stated or implied that the problem was that left-handedness was unnnatural and not what God intended."

I agree that many people held left-handedness to be unnatural (and some that it was not what God intended).

Sorry (to you and Damian) for diverting the thread of your main argument, which as I said, I was following with interest.

The principle is that people should not be blamed for something beyond their control. We agree on that.

Cheers,
John

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home