Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 7, 1999
The expansion of 'marriage'
Those who emphasize the central place of marriage and the family in society will deeply regret the Supreme Court of Canada's decision to extend the term "spouse" to include homosexual couples in long-term relationships. The decision is a political one with serious consequences for society which, if it is to be made at all, should be made by elected politicians. Further, both the Ontario legislature and the federal Parliament in recent years decided not to extend the term "spouse" in the manner which the Supreme Court has done.
The rub is that "spouse" in most provincial legislation is not restricted to married couples. Politicians themselves decided several years ago to extend the term to also include those in common-law relationships. The Supreme Court has now decided that definition was discriminatory and that alimony already available to common-law "spouses" should also be made available to homosexual "spouses."
The court's decision is unpalatable because it further obscures the unique status which ought to apply solely to formalized marriages between a man and a woman.
In a sense, all the court has done is to logically extend a wrong-headed decision made by politicians a couple of decades ago to treat common-law relationships as "equivalent to marriage." In one respect, common-law relationships are equivalent to marriage - they often create a relationship of economic dependence between two people and they often create children. When the relationship collapses, without legal protection one partner (and the children) is often left in a precarious economic situation.
However, in other important ways, common-law relationships are not equivalent to marriage. They should never have received legal sanction to the extent they have.
The publicly-proclaimed marriage between a man and a woman has rightly been seen as the basic institution of society. Traditionally, other institutions - government, business, the law and schools - have seen themselves as the servant of that most basic institution.
Those institutions realized the crucial role of the family in forming children in values such as love, hard work and enterprise, respect for one's elders, faith, morality, etc. They also realized the importance of marriage being permanent and monogamous. Couples had to make solemn, public promises before beginning marriage. Divorce was seen as a threat to social stability and was allowed only if the couple could prove the common good was undermined by the marriage continuing.
While this understanding of marriage may still survive in some churches, society no longer understands it this way. Marriage is treated as a private choice with few, if any, public consequences. You can enter a relationship "equivalent to marriage" without making a public declaration or without even knowing that you have done so.
This privatization of marriage has had enormous negative consequences for society. Child and women's poverty, high divorce rates and the social acceptance of promiscuity are the most obvious ones. Children in particular suffer because marriage is treated as a private choice, not the basis of a sound society. Their opportunities for making the most of their talents has been diminished because divorce is treated as a private choice.
One could push the argument back further and say that this is all the result of the separation of sex from procreation. Contraception, legal abortion, in vitro fertilization, etc., have made the link between sex and babies optional. Thus, the commitment of a couple to society's future is also optional.
Governments and the courts have tried to adjust to this new reality. Instead, they ought to challenge it. A severely broken society needs to be put back together. Part of that healing process is a change in public attitudes; part must also be a change in laws and government programs to again respect marriage and the family. Society is in peril. It can only be healed when the family is properly supported and esteemed.
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