Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 29, 2002
Marriage sustains our society
On July 12, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to prevent homosexual couples from marrying. The response of Canadians was muted: perhaps most expected or even desired a ruling of this sort.
Imagine the response if a court had made the same ruling 50 years ago. At that time, homosexual activity was a criminal act, marriage was a lifetime commitment (like it or not), few artificial birth control devices were commercially available and extra-marital sex was definitely frowned upon.
Many people who lived through that era experienced this as an oppression that was stultifying. There were too many taboos and too many people willing to grimly enforce them.
Yet one can in general favour the more relaxed attitude today without rejoicing in the libertarianism at the root of it. Adults may be more relaxed, but too many children suffer because of their parents' broken marriages. Too many adults suffer because of a broken marriage! Far too many children were denied life itself because of society's relaxed attitude to abortion. And too many people have been scarred inside because of our society's permissive attitude to sexuality.
As Bishop Fred Henry noted in last week's WCR, "It would not be far off the mark to say that our society's denial of the ultimate connection between sexual activity and the marriage bond is responsible for most of the unravelling of family and community life in our time."
The Catholic Church says the primary purpose of marriage is to provide a structure for the raising of children. Much of Canadian society acts as though this is gibberish. Mr. Justice Harry LaForme of the Ontario court wrote such an understanding of marriage "appears to be a mere pretext used to rationalize discrimination against lesbians and gays."
What the honourable judge fails to understand is this approach to marriage was not dreamt up a few decades ago to discriminate against a certain class of society. It is an understanding that has held sway across the millennia and across various religions, not to legitimize oppression, but to protect women and children.
Its disintegration in the late 20th century has led to the poverty and social dislocation of thousands, perhaps millions, of women and children. It is one of society's most serious problems.
The vast majority of Canada's federal politicians have taken a stand in favour of the traditional definition of marriage. But making that definition not only a legal stipulation, but also a goal for society will not be an easy task. Pandora's box has been opened and it will not be simple to get all the social ills and misconceptions back inside where they belong.
But if Canada ever gets serious about eradicating social injustice, this is where it must begin. We cannot talk about building a just society when millions of women and children are suffering because of broken marriages or marriages that never happened. We cannot have a healthy society where there are platoons of divorced men cut off from the families to which they thought they were giving everything they had. We cannot have a sustainable society where the birth rate keeps falling far below replacement level.
These are problems that can be dealt with, to some extent, by politicians. But what is more desperately needed is a mass moral reawakening by a society that realizes decisions are best made not by doing what we want, but by adhering to objectively true moral norms.
No institution is better placed to spread the truth about morality than the Church. And no person has been speaking that message more widely and consistently than Pope John Paul. But a few people speaking the truth will never compensate for a whole nation living it. If we want to survive and thrive as a nation, we face no possible solution other than that of mass voluntary conversion. May the spirit and letter of World Youth Day fill us all for a long time to come.
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