Yesterday another columnist from the "National Post" waded into the same sex marriage and polygamy debate. This time it is Barbara Kay, and her column is entitled "The broken window theory of marriage." I found her theory to be intriguing, especially as it related to my own thinking as to how we got to where we are today, with the traditional understanding of marriage in Canada so badly compromised as to be ready to collapse into nonsense.
Kay first deals with the arguments put forward by Andrew Coyne (which I addressed yesterday here), George Jonas, and others:
"Eighteen months ago I wanted to write a column about the creeping respectability of polygamy, but my then-editor considered the topic too far-out. And lo, look what is making headlines today.
Andrew Coyne, George Jonas and the Post Board dismiss "slippery slope" worries about polygamy gaining recognition. Jonas says polygamy may not be unnatural... but "it's certainly un-Canadian." In 1999 when a Reform Party bill designating marriage as "the union of one man and one woman" passed the (House of) Commons by a thundering 216-55, gay marriage was also "un-Canadian," yet a scant five years later, gay marriage is a reality. Why shouldn't other marriage-minded entities in Canada, however outlandish in concept today, take heart from that rush to judgement?"
In this Kay echoes my own concern from my response Coyne's column. Once marriage is declared a "human right" (as it has by the courts in Canada, then what is the basis for denying this right to other unpopular minorities, such as polygamists? Kay then goes on to offer her analogy:
"Polygamists have not challenged the ban for the same reason people walk by an apparently abandoned car for days on end-until someone breaks one of the windows. THe car is then vandalized and stripped within hours. Gay marriage is that broken window."
This analogy, as I said, intrigues me, and I will come back to it below, but first I wanted to examine what Kay sees as the motivation behind this "vandalization" of marriage. Kay continues:
"Continuing vandalism will see marriage abolished altogether, exactly what radical gays, feminists and family law theorists wanted in the first place, and the reason why feminists disparage heterosexual, but support gay, marriage."
Here I actually disagree with Kay. While it is probable that radicals do wish to abolish marriage (or at least hijack the word, turning it into a meaningly nonsensical expression devoid of real meaning). But I do not believe that this is the objective of the majority of same sex marriage supporters. Their "vandalism" (to borrow Kay's expression), is unintentional, and certainly not malevolent, though the end result will be the same as if it was. Marriage will be stripped of all real meaning, at least in our secular society, leaving the majority of people either confused, or indiffierent, to its purpose.
Kay then provides a concise explanation of the historical, social, and cultural purpose of marriage:
"Whether entered into for love, status, money, security, or family alliance, monogamous marriage between one man and one woman has proved the best institution humans have devised for furthering the human race, while advancing social stability, dignity for women and the protection of children. Its proven legitimacy arises from its enduring publich achievements, not the motives people have for entering into it."
Here Kay appeals to the utilitarian in all of us. Society should defend the traditional definition of marriage because that form of marriage has worked, and has served to make societies better. For this reason alone, Kay believes that both same sex marriage, and polygamy, should be rejected. While I agree with the utilitarian reasons for defending traditional marriages, I believe that Kay has missidentified gay marriage as the "broken window" that begins the process of "vandalization" of marriage until marriage itself is left a pile of rubble.
In my opinion, the windows were smashed long ago, and gay marriage simply represents the latest bashing delivered against traditional marriage. Liberalized no-fault divorce laws, legal recognition of "common-law" relationships (making them equal, in the eyes of the law, to traditional marriages), and the proliferation of multiple marriages [with the resulting increase of blended families, as well as the dramatic increase in the number of children living with step parent(s)], have each, in turn, served to reduce the status of marriage to the point that many people do not see what the big deal is over letting two men, or two women, choose to "get married."
I have heard the argument put very bluntly, and by a good number of people. The defender of gay marriage talks about how heterosexuals have made a mess of traditional marriage already, through repeated divorce-remarriage cycles, having children by multiple women (sometimes within marriage, other times by affairs, and still others through a series of extramarital sexual encounters), and through comi-tragic events like the Britney Spears 55 minute do it yourself wedding/divorce.
"Look at the joke people have made of marriage already," these gay marriage apologists say. "What's the big deal if we let gays get in on the act now?"
One might put it another way: "the car is already smashed up beyond recognition, or repair, so who cares if someone else comes along to slash the tires?"
I agree that the institution is pretty battered. But one does not make the situation better by continuing the assault. A better alternative is to look for ways to repair the damage, and perhaps to even rebuild it. Given the long, and indisputable track record this institution has in doing good for so many societies through so many eras, it would certainly seem reasonable to suggest that we ought to make the effort.
The alternative is to just keep up the vandalism until there is nothing left to save.