Monday, February 28, 2005

A risk of same-sex marriage

A key argument for the legalization of gay marriage is fairness and its a pretty compelling one. Why can't a gay couple do the same as a heterosexual couple? However, concentrating on the issue of fairness misses perhaps the most important issue. What happens if we set in motion events that could fundamentally alter the value of one of the most important societal constructs in history? Heterosexual marriage is far from perfect but what it ideally represents - a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman and their desire to raise a family in a nurturing environment is extraordinarily valuable.

David Frum, in the NRO, shows the effects of the legalization of gay marriage in Canada after a year.

Seven years ago, Andrew Sullivan and I conducted a fierce debate in Slate about same-sex marriage. Along the way, I hazarded this prediction:

"Andrew, three years after we permit gay marriage, it will be illegal for schools to send home printed forms with one blank for the mother's name and one blank for the father's."

Did I say three years? In Canada, it's taken barely one.

In the province of Ontario, the words "wife," "husband," "widow," and "widower" are now all to be stricken from the law. The words "mother" and "father" cannot be far behind.

Ontario's action is a reminder that same-sex marriage is not just the extension of an existing legal status to previously excluded persons. Same-sex marriage is a revolution in the definition of marriage for everyone - a revolution not just in law, but in consciousnessness.
Once we lose that knowledge, we lose the basic grammar of marriage. It is one more reminder that in the same-sex marriage debate, we are debating not marriage's change - but marriage's overthrow.

In fairness, gay couples should be permitted civil unions which confer the same financial benefits that traditional marriages enjoy but the fairness arguments pales against the prospect of altering and possibly diluting a fundamental bulwark of society as we know it.

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