Same Sex Marriage and Polygamy

Last Sunday Bishop Frederick Henry of (my own) diocese of Calgary started a rather large firestorm with his pastoral letter On Same-Sex Marriage. Both of Canada's largest newspapers, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star, condemned the letter, and Bishop Henry for his "bigotry", "fearmongering", and assorted other crimes against humanity, but what they did not not do, was confront the actual arguments in his letter. This is known, where I come from, as ad hominem, and is not acceptable in legitimate debates.

Fortunately, two other columnists, both from the National Post (Canada's third largest paper, and the only other one besides the Globe that is national in distribution) did confront some of those arguments, as well as others offered by opponents of same sex marriage. In this post I would like to address the position put forward by those one of those gentlemen, namely Andrew Coyne ("Panic over polygamy", National Post, January 22, 2005). A response to George Jonas ("Raiders of Multicult v. Amazons of the Status Quo", National Post, January 24, 2005) will have to wait, as I am restricted greatly by time constraints.

Coyne's column is curious, as he sees absolutely no link at all between the debate over same sex marriage, and that of polygamy. He states:

"The courts could accept their (polygamists) "demands," if they were of a mind to, without ever having ruled on whether two men or two women should be allowed to marry-just as the courts remain at liberty to reject them, regardless of the "precedent" established by legalizing gay marriage.
That's because the two are entirely separable issues..."

While Coyne is technically correct that the two issues are separate, and "entirely separable", it is also quite easy to link them, just as any other "human rights" case can be linked to any other that makes similar types of claims. When black men were (at least technically) given the vote in the United States, this served as a precedent, and argument, to allow the same right to women. Both are persons, and therefore entitled to the same human of rights. Likewise, if marriage is a "human right", then the granting it to one minority group (in this case gays) begs the question as to why it cannot be granted to another minority group (polygamists). The fact that the former get their rights because they are politically powerful, and the ruling Liberal Party of Canada wishes to give them this right hardly serves as justificiation for then denying it to the latter simply because (as our Prime Minister put it himself recently), it is "against the law" is, at best, hypocritical. Gay marriage was "against the law" only two years ago everywhere in Canada, until a couple of judges decided to make it legal based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Ontario and British Columbia (with other judges later adding several more provinces to this list). That was less than two years ago, and now the Liberals wish to make it the law of the land everywhere in Canada because it is a human rights issue, and the Charter makes it "necessary".

To put it simply, judges interpret the law based upon past decisions. So, if it is established that marriage between two men or two women is a human right, then what is to stop them from deciding that marriage between a man and several women (or vice versa) is also a right? And if that should happen, then it is no longer not only not "against the law", but it then becomes the new law based on the Charter of Rights. Extrapolating from the argument of the Prime Minister, the Charter cannot be violated, so he would be as obligated to legalize polygamy as he is now with same sex marriage.

Coyne attempts to address this concern in his next paragraph:

"True, both are instances of "discrimination"-in one case against homosexuals, in the other, against polygamists. Had the courts outlawed discrimination of any kind in the marriage laws, we would not need to worry whether polygamy would be next: It would already be here. But that is not what the courts have ruled, and nother obliges them to do so in the future."

This is a bit of verbal slight of hand on Coyne's part. Of course the courts are not "obliged" to do anything. In fact, they are free to be as consistent, or not, in their interpretation of the Charter and Constitution as they wish. But the logic of their arguments remain, and if one follows their logic consistently, then one does not have to consider the question for very long before concluding that a human right belongs to all person equally unless clear social harm can be shown to occur by granting that right to an unpopular minority. Since Coyne fails to present an argument for such social harm based on legalizing polygamy, one is left to wonder what it might be. He has already rejected any argument for social harm caused by the legalization of gay marriages. In his view there is, in fact, no possibility of harm against any heterosexual married couple caused by the legal marriage of a homosexual couple. Again he merely asserts this position without supporting it, so it is difficult to tell what possible harm could come (in his view) to that same heterosexual married couple if a man and several women elect to marry one another as well.

Coyne does say this much:

"It was the courts' judgement that, the state having established a particular legal status for monogamy in the marriage laws, it was unreasonable to reserve this only to heterosexuals. Whether this seems sensible to you as it does to me will depend in part on whether you agree that the essence of marriage, at least as far as the law is concerned, is monogamy-and not, as other argue, procreation... You are not required to produce offspring. You are required to be monogamous. Adultery is grounds for divorce. Infertility is not."

It is strange that Coyne does not mention that in Canada one can choose to get divorced for any reason one chooses, including because one feels like it. And contrary to what he has stated above, one can list infertility as the reason for divorce as well. Regardless, my question here is why Coyne thinks that monogamy is the central purpose of marriage. And more importantly, I am left to wonder why his preference (and the courts', assuming they share it), should matter all that much to us. Opinions change. Society changes. And so, as we have seen, do judges and their fancies. Besides, in many cultures and societies, polygamy is the norm, or at least tolerated. Such has never been the case with gay marriage. So of the two, the latter is the more radical departure from social norms.

Coyne offers a very thin reed upon which he can rest his case. Monogamy might be nice, but it is certainly not socially necessary. In fact, given that adultery, bigomy, and polygamy have been around as long as human history, one would be hard pressed to demonstrate how it could possibly be the legal and social reason for encouraging marriage. Societies have survived all of these, and will continue to do so. On the other hand, society does have a real, and demonstratable interest in procreation. Very simply, if men and women of one generation choose not to produce children, then theirs will be the last generation ever. And if they do not produce enough children, then their society will undergo very radical changes.

In the end, Coyne trivializes marriage by basing its need on a social whim (monogamy) which is not even socially necessary (however morally and emotionally beneficial it might be to individual members of that society). People, societies, and cultures can adapt to various forms of non-monogomous relationships (in fact, wasn't that what the Sexual Revolution of the 60's and 70's was all about?). But it will not survive without children being produced by heterosexual couplings. On this basis alone the argument would appear to be settled.

I commend Coyne for putting forward his rationale for supporting gay marriages. But the fact remains that he fails to acknowledge that his preference is rooted in nothing more than a prejudice for monogomy between couples, a prejudice that society at large need not (and indeed, often does not) require, even as he rejects the more objectively defensible argument from procreation, which no society can survive without.

As I said, it is a very curious argument.



biblemike said…
You do an excellent job of debunking the faulty arguments of Coyne. Also, cudos to Bishop Henry for his courage in entering the maelstrom of societal and moral change in Canada. I am not Canadian, but my heart breaks for my brothers and sisters on that liberal shore who must face another assault on morality. No doubt it will not be long before the same situation applies here in the U.S. as it has already begun.

It is simple for Christians to argue against these changes in marriage laws and definition, for we have the assurance of God's word on the matter. However, that argument does not work for those who do not believe in the eternal living God who is our Lord. Those will not accept our assumption of God's existence, much less the inerrancy of His word. We must look to non-spiritual, amoral grounds for refuting these changes in order to persuade those who reject God's law.

Procreation seems a sound argument for the limitation of marriage to male and female, but it is reasonably noted by proponents of change that procreation is not a requirement of marriage. Historically, marriage was to protect the rights of children in regards to property and support. Marriage in most cultures provided a legal structure for responsibility as to the offspring of a relationship. In such cultural situations, only heterosexual relationships would therefore quaify for marriage protection. Unfortunately that argument leaves the door open to polygamy. In those cutures where it did lead to polygamy, the right of polygamous relationships was based on economy, the ability to support the spouses and offspring.

Marriage has also been a contract for the purposes of uniting two entire families not just the two individuals in many cultures. Procreation was a hoped for, but not required outcome of this contract. Procreation would provide a biological representation of the joining much stronger than the intial contract wherein a father gave his daughter to another man's son for the purpose of familial partnership. We should also note that in all of the examples given thus far of marriage, love was not the basis of the relationship and in most cultures marriages were arranged by parents without the consent of their offspring and their primary purpose was never the solidification of the personal relationship between the husband and the wife.

Autonomous marriage has only a minor historical role. Until recent history, primarily western history, autonomous marriage has been relatively unknown. Historically, you married who your family wanted you to wed or who your governmental leaders wanted you to wed. The historically significant changes from social rule to individual autonomy has led us to this point. As long as our societies remain focused on what is best for ME rather than what is best for all, we are bound to take this journey toward marriage without meaning which I do not doubt will eventually lead to children without the protections inferred in the original marriage concept. As long as I am focused on me, I can find justification not to focus on them.

This outcome is just as natural a progression as euthanasia is from abortion. We started by legalizing first trimester abortions on the grounds that the "need". (more properly defined as desire) of the woman (formerly known as the mother) exceeds any right the unborn fetus may have since it cannot live outside the womb. From there we moved to a matter of convenience and eventually to so-called "partial birth" abortions in which fetuses capable of birth are literally killed, often after being removed from the birth canal. Once we no longer valued life at birth, we began to reconsider life near the natural end of life and thus we now "logically" argue for euthanasia. Isn't the next logical progression to valuing the desendent more than the ancester and allowing the abortion of seniors who have "outlived any useful life"?

As the courts redefine marriage to be soley about the adult participants autonomously entering into the contract, it seems to me that the property rights of those parties will become more important than the protective rights of any children from birth or adoption. Thus we are lead to forsaking the children again.

I may not be making my points as clearly or logically as I had hoped to, but I do hope that others will pick up on my points and do a better job of arguing them.

Bishop Henry and you are both right in seeing the progresion from homosexual marriage to polygamy if things continue as they are. Unfortunately, barring any intervention by God, I think we are seeing the beginning of a more serious progression as I have previously discussed on my web site in an article entitled 'Good News That Isn't." As the humanist agenda continues to bear fruit, the persecution of those who disagree will follow and, in fact, has already begun on a small scale in both Canada and United States as well as Europe. In Europe there are even laws, such as those in France, that consider Bible studies for senior citizens and Sunday School for children as indoctrination and child/elder abuse. How long before belief in an eternal, living God with whom you have a personal relationship becomes a psychiatric disorder?

Well I have gone on long enough. Let us all continue to pray for those who are falling for this false hope and false promise of security outside the arms of Christ.

It is helpful to remember that a number of courts sanctioning same-sex marriage (starting with the Ontario Court of Appeal) have adopted a natural law framework in doing so.

1. The basic moral obligation is that citizens “ought to seek what is really good” for them. This is a self-evident truth. What is really good is what fulfills a natural human desire or need, because there are no wrong needs. What distinguishes a natural human need from acquired wants is universality, irresistibility and eradicability.

2. The desire to love and be loved is an essential human need, because it is universable, irresistable and eradicable. It is universal in the sense all human beings have it at all points in their lives. It is irresistible in the sense that it is constantly demanding fulfillment. It is eradicable in the sense that it may be temporarily denied, but it never goes away.

3. Orientation is merely a strong predisposition as to how that basic aspect of human nature, the desire to love and be loved, is realized. Heterosexual and homosexual orientations are merely secondary modifications of a more basic human need. The desire for heterosexual partners is neither universal, irresistible nor eradicable. The desire for homosexual partners is neither universal, irresistible nor eradicable. The underlying desire to love and be loved however is universal, irresistible and eradicable.

4. Relationships of equality, intimacy, fidelity and commitment are real goods that fulfill the natural human need to love and be loved. Marriage is a socially recognized institution of equality, intimacy, fidelity and commitment. The primary purpose of marriage is the fostering of that intimacy, not the production of children. It carries with it extensive economic and social rights and responsibilities.

5. The state has an interest in fostering such relationships of equality, intimacy, fidelity and commitment. The dimension of equality precludes the unions of adults and children and precludes the unions of more than two people. Hence, concerns over a slippery-slope descent into polygamy or polyandry are missed.

6. The state has no interest in denying persons access to such relationships when they are capable of exercising the equality, fidelity and commitment necessary for such relationships.

7. The state has no interest in forcing any church, synagogue, or mosque to change its beliefs or practices to accommodate the state’s views.

For those interested in supporting or challenging same-
sex marriage, those are the legal issues that frame the debate.

Robert Sutherland
Nomad said…
I would like to thank Mike and Mr. Sutherland for their responses, while at the same time seeking further clarification from Mr. Sutherland on his own arguments.

In point (5) he states "[T]he state has an interest in fostering such relationships of equality, intimacy, fidelity and commitment. The dimension of equality precludes the unions of adults and children and precludes the unions of more than two people."

The problem here is that the argument here, as is the case with that of Mr. Coyne, simply begs the question. Both gentlemen has assumed their conclusion, rather than offering an actual defence of it. Should marriage be deemed to be a "human right", then the standard by which this right can be denied to polygamists must be articulated. This has not been done.


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