This column was published by the Guelph Daily Mercury in December 2004. At the time, the Canadian parliament was debating legislation to legalize marriages of same-sex couples. They had already been performed in Ontario and a couple of other provinces. The legislation passed, and the sky didn’t fall.
About a year and a half ago, my sister-in-law and her partner came to Ontario from their home in Tennessee to get married. For several years, they have enjoyed a stable, loving relationship which, through the wonders of in-vitro fertilization, has resulted in a daughter and a son. They can now tell the world they are happily and legally married.
In the social darkness engulfing our neighbour to the south, this could not have happened. My wife and I could not have had the honour of standing beside them during the ceremony. We could not have acted as their witnesses while a United Church minister proclaimed the marriage. If Brenda Chamberlain had her way they wouldn’t have been able to do it here either. She has announced she will not support a government bill to legitimize same-sex marriages everywhere in Canada. She prefers to maintain a very shaky “tradition” that treats people differently for no reason other than their sexual orientation.
Opponents of same-sex marriages only have a couple of arguments to bolster their case, and none of them are very good. The one we hear most frequently is that a gay or lesbian wedding threatens the sanctity of traditional ones. What rubbish. My wife and I have been married for over 25 years, and the success of our relationship does not depend on denying the same opportunity to gays and lesbians. My sons and daughter will still be able to move forward and marry their girlfriends and boyfriend. Their right to do so will not be threatened because somewhere else in Canada Adam is marrying Yves and Mabel is marrying Mildred.
Another argument we hear frequently has to do with the health of children. We are told that healthy children need a mother and a father and only heterosexual unions can provide them with this comfort. When I hear this, I am reminded that Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were the issue of heterosexual relationships, and entered into one themselves. So were Clifford Olson, Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and just about every other social misfit who has walked on the face of the earth. The same is equally true for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, and Einstein, Gandhi, Tommy Douglas and just about every other great individual who has helped make our world a better place. The sexual orientation of the parents is not a defining factor in the outcome of the children.
The third argument is that the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman must be defended and cannot be changed. This argument has led to some very strange and illogical outcomes.
The definition of “man” and “ woman” has evolved over time. A long time ago, in the 14th century, woman was defined as the sex which bears young or produces eggs. Man was defined as the sex which produces the sperm that fertilizes the eggs. If this definition had never evolved, a marriage today would be a union between sperm-producers and egg-producers. Thousands upon thousands of Canadians with reproductive disorders would be tossed into the same limbo now restricted only to gay men and lesbian women.
It becomes even stranger. A pair of Alberta women, Donna Kilpatrick and Kale Hobbes, were denied a marriage license. In April 2003, they made a submission to that province’s Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in which they refer to a letter received from the Justice Minister, Dave Hancock. He told them that if one of them underwent gender reassignment surgery, they would be allowed to get married. They point out that it is “completely ludicrous” that they “can marry after a penis is constructed yet our chromosomes will still be that of two females.”
Is this the attitude that will define Canadian social policy? Two people who love each other dearly and want to celebrate that love through marriage can only do so if one of them undergoes a painful surgical procedure?
The traditional wedding ceremony was an elaborate ritual celebrating the transfer of property. The father would walk the bride down the aisle and give her away to the groom. To seal the deal, the bride would immediately sign the transfer documents and change her name from her father’s to her husband’s. This is changing rapidly. Fewer and fewer women allow themselves to be “given away.” More and more are keeping the last name they were born with.
They are not allowing marriage to change who they are. Rather, they are changing marriage to allow them the room to be themselves. Change cannot be made in half-measures. It must continue until it embraces all Canadians equally. It should not be stopped just because some people are afraid of it.