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From the March, 2005 issue of Touchstone


The Ties That Bend by Graeme Hunter

The Ties That Bend

Divorcing Marriage edited by Daniel Cere and Douglas Farrow

Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada’s New Social Experiment
McGill-Queen’s Press, 2004
(208 pages; $19.50 [US], paperback)

reviewed by Graeme Hunter

Canada has been in legal, political, and religious turmoil since June 10, 2003, when, in Halpern v. Ontario, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that no definition of marriage would henceforth be acceptable unless it provided recognition to same-sex couples that is “full and equal to that enjoyed by opposite sex couples.” Copycat decisions soon followed in Quebec, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. Canada’s supine Liberal government immediately agreed without appeal.

No matter that the Parliament of Canada had endorsed the traditional definition of marriage by a margin of four to one (216 to 55) only five years earlier. Within days of the Halpern decision, the Liberal government abolished a Parliamentary committee exploring the issue of same-sex marriage, announced that it would draft legislation to change the definition, and went cap-in-hand to the Supreme Court with a set of reference questions to help it avoid the Court’s wrath in any new definition it might formulate.

All these details of Canada’s rapid decline into same-sex delirium and Supreme Court tyranny are provided by Daniel Cere, director of Montreal’s Institute for the Study of Marriage, Law and Culture, in the opening pages of Divorcing Marriage. He and Douglas Farrow, Associate Professor of Christian Thought at McGill University, have collected eleven well-written and timely essays by Canadian academics, writers, and politicians who find themselves at the center of the same-sex controversy. Together, they provide a history, an overview, and an evaluation of our present crisis, as well as judicious pointers to where it will lead.

This collection is divided into four sections. The first discusses the conflict over same-sex marriage; the second, the casualties that would result from embracing it, particularly the negative impact it would have on children; the third, the excuses for such legislation advanced by the homosexual lobby; and the last, the alternatives the authors think ought to be considered.

The contributors are senior academics and public figures of a generally conservative outlook, including Calgary political scientist Ted Morton; Darrel Reid, the president of Focus on the Family (Canada); and Margaret Somerville, Samuel Gale Professor of Law at McGill University.

Canadian Lemmings

Topical books like this one may have intense lives, but they are almost always brief ones. Divorcing Marriage therefore must be read at once if it is to do any good. And it deserves close reading. Its diagnosis needs to be widely understood if any of us on either side of the border are to have a chance of avoiding its grim prognosis.

Americans who wish to play devil’s advocate might hope that few -Canadians will read this book. After all, they might say, it is not so bad to have on our border a nation of lemmings who volunteer to plunge over any social precipice the chattering classes say is fashionable. A quick and decisive failure of same-sex marriage in Canada might do more to moderate opinion in the United States than many volumes of well-argued articles.

But even such Americans will at least want to read Divorcing Marriage for themselves. The authors rightly recognize in the same-sex debate a challenge to Western culture, compared to which the survival of the Canadian polity is a small concern. What, then, is fundamentally at play?

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Sally with the baby-carriage.” So went a rhyme girls used to skip to, in the days when girls still skipped rope rather than marriage. Traditional marriage served the purpose of procreation. It involved the pleasure of sex but also the sacrifice of adult freedoms for the sake of providing a stable, protective environment for the young. In addition, the traditional idea involved permanence, child-centeredness, and sex difference.

But with the sexual revolution a new romantic conception of marriage arose, according to which it was only a “close personal relationship” between adults. In her foreword, the American journalist Maggie Gallagher captures the unfortunate effect of such romanticism, especially in the lives of children. In the new Canada, adults believe they “have awesome intimacy needs that must be met. Family forms, social norms, household arrangements must be unwound and rewound so that the adults get what they need. Kids? Oh, they adjust.”

The significance of Ontario’s Halpern decision is that it adopts this romantic understanding of marriage without any argument and without public sanction. But if marriage is only a “close personal relationship,” homosexuals are capable of it. Nothing could be easier for the court to argue.

But as Douglas Farrow counters in his article, “Rights and -Recognition,” the argument is so easy because it is viciously circular. Having taken for granted a definition of marriage that opens it to homosexuals, the court then proves that the right to marry must be extended to homosexuals. The social consequences, as several of the essayists point out, will be devastating.

False & Cruel

The idea that children will simply adapt to the brave new realities Canada now wishes to sanction is, as McGill professor Margaret Somerville points out, both false and cruel. Even social scientists are driven by their data to concede that children thrive better in stable, two-parent, heterosexual families than in any other environment.

“Children need and have a right to both a mother and father and . . . a right to know and be reared by their own biological parents,” Somerville argues. “Restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman establishes that right of children as the societal norm.” The contemplated changes to the definition of marriage amount, in her view, to sacrificing the legitimate needs of children to the hedonistic desires of adults.

The traditional family does a better job with boys in particular. By demanding commitment from them, it makes a commitment to them. “Women civilize men,” is the way we used to put it. Women were thought to turn men into responsible fathers. But as McGill’s Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson point out, today’s boys are socialized in large part by the “adolescent” or even “pre-adolescent” ideals of manhood as they are projected by popular culture, with predictable results.

That such socialization is an inadequate replacement for civilization is implied by what has become of fatherhood, which today is often no more than the accidental and unwanted byproduct of a “close personal relationship.” Men are expected to engage in indiscriminate sexual encounters and to take no responsibility for the result. Such encounters, indeed, are among the few natural inclinations of average males that still meet with social approval. Another is violent games of domination. The resultant disenfranchisement of young men from civil society has for some years been recognized as a problem.

Christina Hoff Sommers has aptly called it a “War Against Boys.” Young and Nathanson, in the subtitle of their book Spreading Misandry, call it “the teaching of contempt for men in popular culture.” Liberal Canada’s solution to the problem is first to make it legally compulsory and then to call it normal.

The new definition of marriage will, when it takes effect, also be a disaster for religious freedom. Though protected in Canadian law, religious freedom runs a very distant second to homosexual rights in the present political climate. Thus, even if the new definition of marriage, as promised, exempts ministers of religion from being forced to perform same-sex ceremonies, such exemptions will be short-lived and will not protect the numerous other ways in which traditional denominations would normally express their opposition to homosexuality.

Will church schools, for instance, be entitled to teach their children that homosexual relationships are unhealthy and evil? Will churches be able to refuse to rent their facilities to groups who are putting on homosexual events? Will they be able to discriminate against active and unrepentant homosexuals in their communities? Will they be exempt from having to pay spousal benefits to homosexual employees? The answer to all these questions is no. Christians will have to change their principles or go to jail.

Liberals sometimes profess to be puzzled at the way the newly elected Nazi party was able to produce such huge conformity of opinion so quickly in the Germany of the 1930s. But it is neither mysterious nor attributable to some pathological servility of the German people. Compliance was achieved through brutal application of the policy of Gleichschaltung, which might be translated as “enforced conformity.”

Agitators on the left in Canada have long since figured this out. They know they will never persuade decisive majorities in Parliament or in the public sphere, particularly when it comes to same-sex issues. So they have turned to the coercive power of the judiciary.

The Only Alternative

The final section of Divorcing Marriage deals with possible alternatives to same-sex marriage. Some of the theoretical possibilities the authors discuss do not look even remotely likely.

The government shows no inclination, for example, to create an institution of civil union or domestic partnership that would be open to homosexuals, while simultaneously retaining the traditional definition of marriage. Neither does it seem likely to leave marriage to the churches, while it would recognize only civil unions. The first option would be derided by homophiles as a system of apartheid for homosexuals. The second would needlessly antagonize nonreligious heterosexual couples, who would suddenly find their marriages transformed into mere civil unions by government fiat.

The only alternative that stands even a small chance of being adopted is that of invoking section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the so-called “notwithstanding clause,” which allows Parliament to veto Supreme Court decisions it deems not to be in the public interest. However, the current debate does not make this look likely. Other expedients, such as referenda, while they seem to be effective in the United States, would not work here. Even if a huge majority voted in favor of retaining the traditional definition of marriage, the matter would only be referred once more to the Supreme Court, where the huge majority would almost certainly be overruled.

As one journalist recently put it, Canada has changed from being a Parliamentary democracy to being a Constitutional democracy, and we must now submit to being ruled by the nine Supreme Court judges who interpret our Constitution.

My only substantial dissatisfaction with this book lies in this final section and its list of “alternatives.” Though many of the authors are Christian, none of them considers the alternative that serious Christians are more and more whispering to one another and in which we would all appreciate some guidance from thoughtful writers.

Even the most cautious can see that a time of persecution is almost certainly coming, though we do not yet see what form it will take. Christians need to consider the possibility that we will be called not to outmaneuver the same-sex juggernaut, but to defeat it by patient suffering. We should be reading a little more Bonhoeffer and a little less Machiavelli.

Nulla dies sine cruce (“No day is without the cross”), St. Josemaria Escriva used to say. When we pray to be delivered from the night, we should also remember the sacrifices that will be required before the dawn.

Divorcing Marriage is distributed in the United States by CUP Services (

Graeme Hunter teaches philosophy at the University of Ottawa. He is the author of Radical Protestantism in Spinoza's Thought (Ashgate). He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

“The Ties That Bend” first appeared in the March 2005 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

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