Multi-penis Marriage

Oliver and I spent an hour and a half listening to Cross Country Checkup, the CBC’s national open line show, on our way back from Sackville on Sunday (you can listen to an archive of the show here).

The topic was “Is the same-sex marriage battle over?” in reaction to the Supreme Court of Canada Reference that was released last week.

The program was mostly infuriating, as a cavalcade of “marriage is a sacred procreative union of man and woman and has been for thousands of years” callers squirmed to justify their “uniqueness” without appearing “bigoted.” Here is a typical example of this, from a caller from Saskatoon:

The redefinition of marriage as it’s being proposed really does trump the notion of equality; I think that if this passes it will inflict irreparable damage on this institution and I think that, you know, to give a homosexual couple civil union status with according benefits is fine, we could all accept that, but I do wish these people would not explode the last vestiges of this universally sacred institution. Could they not leave us that. We allow their culture, and ask only that they allow ours.

Thankfully there were more rational callers, like this guy from Nova Scotia:

I just hope I don’t lose too many friends after tonight… I’m just an ordinary hetrosexual person, but to me it is a matter of principle, and it’s a principle of equality, in rights, and in dignity. I find it quite hypocritical to hear people say “give them their rights,” like the last caller said, but what I hear behind is “as long as their rights are not our rights.”

I’ve looked deep, deep within myself to try and find a scintilla of reasoning why men shouldn’t be allowed to marry men and women shouldn’t be allowed to marry women. I come up dry.

Even if, for some odd religious reason, you think gays and lesbians are “evil” I can’t understand why “allowing them” to marry is so threatening to some. And I can’t understand why “they” are “them” and “we” are “us.”

And even if it is threatening, it disturbs me that people can’t look beyond their own discomfort and look at the broader issues of equality involved.

And even if people can’t muster enough strength to think about equality when it runs contrary to their base instincts, I can’t understand how in any way it makes sense to turn away from two people, regardless of gender, who voluntarily say “we love each other, and we’d like to make a public commitment to that love.” In what way can that be construed as a negative or harmful endeavour?

When I was a kid in elementary school, one of the worst insults you could hurl at someone — and we did it all the time — was “you’re so gay.” There was also lots of “suck me off” talk. I’m sure most of us didn’t know what we were talking about (I didn’t learn what “gay” meant until I was ten years old: I watched this episode of The Bob Newhart Show and asked my father; I can’t remember what he told me, but I know it was a more open-minded answer than the fathers of most of my friends would have given).

Through my youth, though, it was pretty clear, both in the popular culture and on the playground, that “being gay” wasn’t something to aspire to. And I didn’t even get the condemnations from the pulpit that kids in religious families would have.

As much as I’d like to think otherwise, I can’t help but thinking that the reaction against same-sex marriage is rooted in deep-seated fear, ignorance and discomfort about homosexuality, gay sex and gay culture. Although it has become de rigueur to pay a constricted sort of respect to gays and lesbians — this is what “give them their rights” means, I think — if you scratch beneath the surface, I think there’s a huge popular well of anti-gay sentiment in Canada.

If all of the “God’s sacred relationship between man and woman” rhetoric is simply cover for “we’re queasy about gay sex” — and I suspect that a large part of it is — what can we do about that? And, perhaps even worse, if large numbers of Canadians are members of anti-gay religious sects, how do others who aren’t live in community with them?

I want to live in a world where people are free to express different opinions, live different lives, eat different foods, practice different faiths, follow different paths; a world where as much as we hold our own personal beliefs dear, we’re smart enough, and guided by a sense of justice strong enough, and courageous enough to know that even when things made us afraid or uncomfortable or seem to involve a lot of change, a higher power of mutual respect and understanding guides us towards following the path of equality, plurality, and understanding.

How do we get there?


oliver's picture
oliver on December 15, 2004 - 21:26 Permalink

I think you can be a “sanctity of marriage” advocate while being only incidentally gay. I think a lot of people depend on a belief in an abstract/spiritual idealness that is somehow (thanks to the white gown and ceremony) inextricably associated with the existential reality of their relationships (i.e. the day-to-day ups and downs of events and your feelings about them). That belief part of how they persevere in relationships and feel content with the lives they live. So because a lot of belief rests on “everybody else” seeming to buy into them (“a lot of smart people believe in God, so I guess I will too”), it’s a threat to your happiness and an insult to your belief if some people start questioning the purchase and asking for an exchange or refund. The New Yorker had a good article on this awhile back.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 15, 2004 - 21:26 Permalink

Ahem. I meant “incidentally ANTI-gay” not “incidentally gay”

oliver's picture
oliver on December 15, 2004 - 21:30 Permalink

Let me try that again:

I think you can be a “sanctity of marriage” advocate while being only incidentally anti-gay. I think a lot of people depend on a belief in an abstract/spiritual idealness that is somehow (thanks to the white gown and ceremony) inextricably associated with the existential reality of their relationships (i.e. the day-to-day ups and downs of events and their feelings about them). That belief is part of how they persevere in relationships and feel content with the lives they live. So because a belief often rests to a large extent on “everybody else” seeming to buy into it (“a lot of smart people believe in God, so I guess I will too”), it’s going to feel like a threat to your happiness and an insult to your belief if people hesitate to buy and ask for an exchange or refund. The New Yorker had a good article on this awhile back.”

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on December 15, 2004 - 22:19 Permalink

They never explain the “threat”. What is this threat?

In practice nearly 40% of children in Canada live with only one parent. This is increasingly the typical household. Many men and women live together having decided not to have children. Is having children the only reason for a union? What about those that adopt?

Where in the gospels does Jesus define marriage? So what is the Christian tradition as defined by Christ. The tradition they call upon is the tradition of the Jews but then were not many of the heroes of the old testament polygamous?

Finally why do we insist that the traditions of marriage begin in Europe in the last 2,000 years. Unions of all sorts predate and coexist with the so called Christian tradition (Old testament really)

When called to recant, Luther told the church officials that he would recant gladly if they could point to one line of the words of Jesus that supported the sale of indulgences. So in that tradition — where is the foundation of the so called traditional marriage that the inclusion of gays will so undermine?

Wayne's picture
Wayne on December 15, 2004 - 23:13 Permalink

As you may know, an Indulgence was kinda like a “get outta jail” card you could buy for a deceased relative or friend which was sold by the Church. It decreased the time spent in Pergatory by the dearly departed. Then, enterprising retailers decided they could be purchased for the buyer. Then, purchased for future sins the buyer might commit. Before the fact, so-to-speak. One smart crook purchased an Indulgence from a retailer for a future sin he would commit, then promptly robbed the retailer, yelling as he ran out the door…”This is my next sin, and the one I just purchased forgiveness from!”

The funding was to be used to build churches in Rome, which poor folks in the rest of Europe did not support, and this all helped to drive the Reformation.

Frederick the Wiseass's picture
Frederick the W... on December 15, 2004 - 23:27 Permalink

Robert, I served over Martin Luther. I knew Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a friend of mine. Robert, you’re no Martin Luther.

steve's picture
steve on December 16, 2004 - 03:22 Permalink

I think things aren’t as dire as you think. Most polls show that younger people fully support gay marriage. Certainly some older people do as well, but the support among young people is widespread.

I think it’s likely that most listeners of and callers to cross-country checkup skew older, and thus would be more likley to oppose gay marriage.

What I’m saying is wait twenty years and this won’t even be an issue. Think of civil rights for visible minorities or access for the disabled today as compared to 50 years ago.

I’m not saying we don’t have alot of work to do as a society. But I think people know what’s right in their hearts. Sometimes it just takes them awhile to get there.

Joshua's picture
Joshua on December 16, 2004 - 04:24 Permalink

When we depend on young people to be the driving force of social change, I wonder what we’ve come to. We don’t know who we are ourselves let alone what we should be doing or acting upon. Young people (this includes myself) often are more social in nature and we don’t understand the vast implications of our choices. When we reach that university age we are often experiencing for the first time the desire to help others in society for the first time; beginning to look outside ourselves, often in a naive manner. First time into the fray, I’d rather follow a battle hardened vetern than a youthful general with little experience; but that’s just me. We dismiss the older generation as lecturing and small minded; but yet the next generation creeps ever deeper into crime and addictions. I’m continually amazed by the high quality of advice and wisdom from older people, probably because I expect them to be small-minded and in-side-the-box. It’s not as if homosexuality is a new trend. This has been occuring for thousands of years and is recorded as such in the Bible. It’s funny to me, those who accept all these ideas that same-sex marriage is great on the other certainly make effort to malign the ‘small-mindedness’ of those who don’t agree. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too offensive to you, as I’ve taken the liberty you’ve granted your readers of posting comments on your entries. Take Care.

R.'s picture
R. on December 16, 2004 - 14:57 Permalink

Its not a question of agreeing or disagreeing on the matter. Its a question of the logical, reasoned extension of rights and a question of individual autonomy, the individual being the fundamental unit of society. And, finally, the inability of those who don’t agree to put forward a reasoned argument against same-sex marriage rights.

Ken's picture
Ken on December 16, 2004 - 15:06 Permalink

Being gay me be the oldest form of birth control. Maybe gay people realize there are too many humans, yet they still want to have sex. They are like the floating off switch in the toilet tank. War is the flush handle, and we all know where peace goes.

Joshua's picture
Joshua on December 16, 2004 - 16:33 Permalink

I’m sure you appreciate tbe difficulty for many religious people of providing a ‘logical’ reason for restricting marriage to heterosexual couples opposed to same sex marriage. There are different belief systems in place so it’s not an arguement built solely on an individual manner. So if a person doesn’t have the same belief set then it’s very difficult to see the reasoning behind another individuals belief, even though it may or may not be valid.

R.'s picture
R. on December 16, 2004 - 16:48 Permalink

That’s right. Your beliefs and my beliefs and the person down the hall may all be different. Therefore, we have to provide the same rights and allow the same freedoms for everyone. And we can’t allow anyone to impose their beliefs on anyone else. If I want to have a religion that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, then I can start one. If I want to have a religion that doesn’t allow opposite-sex marriage, then I should be able do that too. Neither has any effects on the beliefs of the other.

Nils's picture
Nils on December 16, 2004 - 17:02 Permalink

I guess one thing that still distresses me is the coming vote in the Canadian Parliament on the whole issue. Surely I’m not the only one who sees a real problem when the rights of a minority are voted upon and “granted” by a majority.

If there were a question as to whether or not aboriginal people or black people or (insert your minority here) people deserve the same rights as anyone else, would it actually come up before the Houses of Parliament?

oliver's picture
oliver on December 16, 2004 - 17:25 Permalink

There are groupings of people that are considered legitamate groupings and others that are not and how we conceive the groups evolves. How about the group of people called “murderers”? Should parliament be able to vote on their rights? Seemingly a lot of anti-gay people see homosexuality as a choice and/or curable, and I think it may be because of that that it seems fair to legislate against them, like we legislate against murderers, to the extent they were mentally fit and had a choice at the time they killed the person.

R's picture
R on December 16, 2004 - 18:13 Permalink

Re the vote in parliament: I don’t know the rules exactly but its possible that they may be voting to change the definition of marriage under whatever legislation exists as per instructions from the supreme court decision which is not exactly the same thing as having a vote on the rights of homosexuals its just amending the definition of a previously defined term. I think.

Ken's picture
Ken on December 16, 2004 - 19:26 Permalink

1) Legitimacy and formal recognition in law.
2) Benefits and rights such as naturalization of immigrant spouse, tax claiming dependants, pension/employment benefits, maternity/paternity leave.
3) Lower car insurance rates.
4) Anniversaries!

John Boylan's picture
John Boylan on December 16, 2004 - 19:27 Permalink

I think “R” is right. The source of equal rights for homosexuals in marriage and other areas is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If Parliament refuses to change the current definition of marriage (or passes other legislation that contravenes perceived rights) then a Charter appeal case could likely be launched in the Supreme Court. Given the recent Supreme Court statement on the matter, it seems clear what the result of that would be.

On Peter’s original question of how we deal with varying attitudes in society, I’m reminded of a lecture I attended many years ago given by Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. A bunch of us ended up with Mr. Borovoy at a Pizza Delight after the talk to continue the discussion. At the time I boldy, and naively, voiced the opinion that the only way injustice would be stamped out in society was if we changed the minds and hearts of the wrong-headed. I think Alan was bemused by my youthful idealism but he proceeded to say, if memory serves, that he didn’t really care whether or not people liked particular groups in society (homosexuals amongst them, presumably) as long as they weren’t allowed to discriminate against them.

Reflecting on it over the years, what I took from that night was that while the fight for the hearts and minds of people shouldn’t be ignored, we can’t as a society always wait for everyone to catch up. While it’s far from ideal, the fact that you don’t like someone for some reason isn’t as important in the short term as the fact that you’re not allowed to fire them because of it.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 16, 2004 - 19:41 Permalink

Well said, John.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on December 17, 2004 - 02:12 Permalink


Yeah, actually aboriginal rights come up all the time in Parliament, every time a treaty is passed. Luckily there is Constitutional protection for these rights, which doesn’t seem to stop government from ignoring them from time to time and getting burned by the Court.

As for the gay marriage issue, things I can’t fathom about the “anti-” position include:

* the much debunked “marriage is for pro-creation” myth, which has been mostly dropped out of compassion for those who can’t have children.

* the “traditional” marriage argument. At what point do we draw the line? Do we go back to where marriage meant that the woman became the property of the man? No? Then how much change is too much?

* The threat to the institution arguement. I can’t see how gay marriage threatens straight couples. If you think about it, it’s better — fewer single gay people out there tempting married people into sin.

Anyway…I don’t agree with you Peter that anti-gay sentiment is that strong. i think if you scratch the surface, you’ll find anti-gay sentiment, but I think that under the veneer of anti-gay sentiment, most people in Canada actually don’t care all that much.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 17, 2004 - 15:32 Permalink

I bet there is no “threat to the institution” argument or at least no single one. There’s the “threat to the institution” sound byte and the slogan you paint on placards or shout across the street or preach to the choir. But I suspect people rarely get challenged to rationalize why they perceive the threat. Like I was suggesting implicitly above, I think the real threat goes on unconsciously.

Coolgirl's picture
Coolgirl on December 17, 2004 - 20:30 Permalink

The “threat to the institution” is actually a threat to the institution of organized religion.
Organized religion is based on group brainwashing, which is only successfully perpetrated by fear.
Once the brainwashed are allowed to notice that people on the outside appear to be “committing mortal sins” in a large group, and NOT being struck by thunderbolts, they start to question the validity of their own brainwashing.
This is called “de-programming”.
The religious institutions are terrified of this.
Plus, they hate playing mental images of boys doing it to other boys. (Meanwhile, the men of those religions do tend to fantasize about girls doing it with other girls on an almost daily basis.)

Ken's picture
Ken on December 17, 2004 - 20:49 Permalink

Mental images of doing it. The internet is degenderizing sex, forging new law, and undermining old institutions based on gender.

Ken's picture
Ken on December 17, 2004 - 20:53 Permalink

Why are public restrooms separate anyway? Isn’t it the same reason as the burka — a barrier protecting chastity?

oliver's picture
oliver on December 17, 2004 - 23:30 Permalink

Restrooms are separate to preserve man’s God-given right not to have to wait in line for a stall.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 18, 2004 - 05:47 Permalink

Belgian tavern cans are not separate. I once almost arranged a rather nice date with a lass from London near the urinal. And that is why they should not be uni-sex.

Ken's picture
Ken on December 18, 2004 - 19:09 Permalink

Ally McBeal — Alan’s Doppelganger. Female, White, and American. Yet likes Beer, The Law, and Dancing Babies.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 18, 2004 - 22:22 Permalink

Right some skinny like me, too.