Three years of same-sex marriage in Canada and the sky hasn’t fallen

(Originally posted on the Bilerico Project, America's biggest LGBT blog, by Alberta-based transactivist Mercedes Allen.)

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since July 19th, 2005, following a chain of events that began in a Court of Appeal in Ontario in 2003.  It was the third country in the world to legalize it, after the Netherlands (2000) and Belgium (2003), and happened in a few Provinces before being recognized nationwide.  In the end, the issue still came to a vote in the House of Commons (instead of, as many in the religious right will tell you, legislating done by judges) and it passed with 158 MPs for it (versus 133 against).

When the Conservatives came to power, they attempted to reopen the debate, and this motion was defeated by a vote of 175 to 123 on December 7th, 2006.  By that time, people were used to over a full year of same-sex marriage existing, and typically called it a “non-issue.”  

And somehow, the country failed to implode.Claim: “Same-sex marriage will weaken the institution of marriage.”

Okay, that's a pretty broad statement.  First we need to define things.  If we're referring to statistical rates of marriages, they have continued to climb along with the population.  If we're talking about divorces, there has been no quantifiable change.

In Canada, divorces hovered at just under 38% from 2000 to 2002, the year before the Provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, along with the Yukon territory, legalized same-sex marriage in their jurisdiction.  In 2004 (just before the legalization across the country) it rose to 41.3%. Since then, it has dropped again, slightly.  For 2007, I have an unconfirmed number of 37%.  

Divorces among same-sex couples specifically has been significantly small thus far — marriage was first available to some Provinces in June of 2003, but two years later only two same-sex divorces were recorded, compared to thousands of marriages having taken place in that same time frame.  Perhaps same-sex marriages are hard-won enough and serious enough decisions that people do not enter into them as frivolously as opposite-sex couples.

From ReligiousTolerance.org:

Among many religious and social liberals, giving same-sex couples the same marriage rights (and rites) as opposite-sex couples has already had one positive effect on marriage in Canada: It has brought many same-sex couples who are enthusiastic supporters of marriage into the institution. Marriage in North America has been suffering lately, as increasing numbers of couples decide to simply live together rather than marry. Also, large numbers of married couples are separating and/or divorcing.

 

So while opposite-sex couples have not been noticeably impacted by same-sex marriage legislation, the institution of marriage has achieved a kind of renaissance in Canada — albeit one that homophobes simply don't want to acknowledge.  In comparison, Barna Research Group discovered in 1999 that divorce rates among faith populations were considerably higher for conservative Christians, and so far no one has been able to attribute that to the advent of same-sex marriage.  

I don't have any comparative rates of infidelity between heterosexual and gay couples (reliable studies, i.e. with no likely bias either way, appear not to exist at this point in time).

Also keep in mind that marriage was not always the institution that we understand it to be today.  Prior to the Roman Catholic Church's assertion of authority over legal partnerships at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), it was far less formal, and for hundreds of years following that event, it was still largely reserved for the wealthy, often used to strategically unite families for monetary and political gain.  For commoners, the “common law” had to suffice.  The effect of same sex marriage pales compared to the effect of Catholicization and economic changes over the centuries — not to mention the advent of divorce itself.  Similar claims of “destroying marriage” had been made about interracial marriages prior to 1958, and negative effects from that have also not materialized (unless you're a white supremacist who believes in racial purity).

Claim: “Same-sex marriage will pave the way for polygamists, incest and all sorts of other immoral couplings.”

In fact, Canada does have an issue with polygamy, centering around a Mormon community in Bountiful, B.C.  This year, authorities were reluctant to move on claims of abuses in that community, because they felt it likely that they would lose a court challenge…  not because of same-sex marriage, but because of the Mormons' freedom of religion.  

And incest, which is illegal in the eyes of the Criminal Code of Canada, certainly has not had any sort of surge in popularity or acceptance since the legalization of SSM.

Claim: “Two mommies or two daddies cannot adequately parent.”

Although it has been suppressed by the current Conservative government in Canada, an extensive report drawn up for the Department of Justice took a thorough look at families in which children are raised by same-sex parents.  The report found:

The strongest conclusion that can be drawn from the empirical literature is that the vast majority of studies show that children living with two mothers and children living with a mother and father have the same levels of social competence. A few studies suggest that children with two lesbian mothers may have marginally better social competence than children in traditional nuclear families….

The conservative right often advances this belief along with certain assumptions about male and female roles in parenting.  It is believed by many of these groups that men were meant to lead, make decisions and support families financially, while women were meant solely to parent (i.e. careers for women negatively impact the family) and to submit to their husbands.  Dysfunction can be found among as many conservative and religious households as any other households, while considerable functionality can be found among families where gay males or lesbian couples are parenting.  It helps when at least one parent is able to focus on the child's upbringing and well-being, and foster communication.  The conservative stance on this point reveals a particular mysogyny at work.

Liberal studies sometimes find that children of same-sex couples tend to develop less bigoted attitudes; even if dismissed as biased studies, they still tend to pass muster as anectodal evidence.

Claim: “Raising a child in a same-sex household will expose them to homophobia.”

There are no existing quantifiable statistics on this, so while possibly true, the same argument still holds little water when applied to interracial marriages, where children of a mixed race couple might be subject to racial discrimination.  In the latter example, modern society recognizes that it is the bigotry that is of concern- not the race, faith, gender, age, etc. that it targets.

Claim: “Children raised by gays or lesbians will become homosexuals themselves.”

Again, there is no concrete statistical analysis of this at present.  Mental health professionals, sexuality researchers and anecdotal evidence tend to concur that children who have been raised by GLBTQ couples simply usually become more comfortable with accepting their own innate orientation, whether straight, gay or bi.  Even this is not always 100%.  As a trans advocate, I am familiar with at least one instance where a trans youth was kicked out of a same-sex household (one parent of which was a biological parent) in part because of transphobic bias, so reality is far more complex than assumptions and conjecture would like to admit.

More than that, though, is that despite Fundamentalists' contention that being gay is a choice, the science and anecdotal evidence still indicate otherwise.

This argument also assumes that being gay in itself is something that is unacceptable and undesirable, but I suppose that's obvious.

Claim: “Allowing same-sex marriage gives special rights to gay couples.”

No, it gives equal rights to GLBTQ couples.  How difficult is this to get?  Three years on, gay couples are not considered preferential in Canada, nor are they more protected than heterosexual couples, legally, socially or otherwise.

Claim: “Allowing same-sex marriage is another major step toward religious persecution.”

Religious institutions are given an exemption from having to perform same-sex marriages and also have significant freedom from anti-bigotry / anti-discrimination actions through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Canada's hate speech laws also provide an exemption based on religious beliefs, limited only by calls to action.  A recent Human Rights Commission ruling against Rev. Steven Boissin hinged largely on the fact that in his letter to the Red Deer Advocate, Boissin suggested that “something should be done” about homosexuals (my paraphrasing — the actual text of the letter has been sealed and is unavailable due to the court case and its ruling).  And, of course, just over a week after the letter to the editor was published, “something” was done, in the case of a teen being beaten for being perceived as gay — an action that judges linked circumstantially to the letter.

Religious institutions in Canada have not stopped preaching against homosexuality, have rarely been taken to task for their words, and freedom of religion is still being weighed heavily in instances where the question comes up (see previous point about Bountiful, B.C.).

Claim:  “Allowing same-sex marriage will erode the Christian faith.”

Possibly true, but not dramatically and probably not single-handedly.  The number of Canadians who believe in God declined slightly, to 72%.  

Claim: “Allowing same-sex marriage will help facilitate a general acceptance of homosexuality.”

Yes, it does.  This only matters to those who think that tolerance is a particularly bad thing.

Claim: “Recognizing same-sex marriage will cost too much in spousal benefits.”

Marriage injects a considerable amount of money into the economy and costs no more than it would have if the beneficiary coincidentally happened to be a married heterosexual.  Businesses in Canada have not suffered significantly due to the introduction of same-sex marriage — certainly, it is never raised as an issue here.  This argument is as discriminatory as it would be if the costs of benefits for interracial marriages, marriages involving people of certain ages or marriages of low-income couples were called into question.

Claim: “Procreation is the heart of marriage, and is not possible among same-sex couples.”

Overlooking the fact that artificial insemination makes procreation possible between same-sex couples, or that many adults are infertile and would be exempted from marriage eligibility by the same logic, the Earth's population does not appear to be diminishing any time soon.  Canada's birth rate rose from 339,270 in 2004/5 to 364,085 in 2007/8, so people can breathe a little easier.  We didn't stop being fruitful and multiplying.

This argument assumes that child-rearing is the sole focus of marriage, overlooking the human needs for companionship, mutual commitment and support and other crucial aspects present in marriage.

Claim: “9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc. are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.”

I'm guessing most rational people can see through that one.  And while it's not right to assume that we'd never be the target of terrorism or be struck by a major national disaster, I suspect that the relative lack of such things in Canada tends to rule out causation.

Claim: “Marriage has always been between one man and one woman.”

Okay, there's no relevant statistical info from Canada that addresses this one, but same-sex unions had been recognized at various times through history, including ancient Egypt, Native cultures with Two-Spirit traditions, classical Greece, republican and imperial Rome, pre-Christian (“pagan”) Europe, and various African tribes.  It also persists among some “untouched” remote cultures, such as in Samoa, along with trans-related traditions.  Hebrew scriptures describe different family traditions that weren't always the one man + one woman ethic of today, including polygamous relationships involving concubinage (i.e. the “father” of both Judaic and Arabic cultures, Abraham — he had a first-born child by a concubine and then a child with his preferred wife, and their descendants have been fighting ever since).

Claim: “It's icky.”

Get over it.

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