In public affairs, certain things are more important than others. Amongst the most important are laws on marriage and laws on education. They are fundamental because they impact on the future and survival of society. That is why people concerned about the future of Western civilization should be grateful to Douglas Farrow, associate professor of Christian Thought at McGill University in Montreal. His Nation of Bastards is perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the effects that the legalization of so-called “same-sex marriage” will have on our social, political and cultural life.
One of the most powerful arguments used by advocates of same-sex marriage is that it does not take away anything from heterosexual couples and traditional families while extending to homosexuals a right heretofore denied them. The underlying assumption is that limiting marriage to a man and a woman is a form of unwarranted discrimination. Putting an end to such discrimination, it is argued, is consistent with Mill’s “no-harm” principle prohibiting governments from interfering with individual actions to the extent that the latter cause no harm to others. Farrow has undertaken to demonstrate that, contrary to what an increasing number of legislators in Western countries believe, the application of this argument to same-sex marriage is a colossal sham.
Farrow supports his thesis by noting that, in Canada at least, redefining marriage as an institution with no necessary link to procreation and the rearing of children has already had a major impact on the understanding of children’s right to the care of their own parents. Indeed same-sex marriage has opened to question the legal foundation of the child-parent relationship, including the parental claim to the child over against the state.
As Farrow explains, “it is not by accident that Bill C-38 [the Canadian legislation on same-sex marriage], and its consequential amendments, dismantles the language of ‘natural parent’, ‘blood relationship’ and the like – language that acknowledges implicitly the priority of the family to the state – in favor of terms such as ‘legal parent’ and ‘legal parent-child relationship’.”
Thus, same-sex marriage reduces not only marriage, but the complete web of family relations, to a legal construct. Marriage and family must now be viewed as creatures of the state rather than as natural institutions whose existence is acknowledged by it and that limit its jurisdiction over individual lives. In Farrow’s words, same-sex marriage “has effectively made every man, woman, and child a chattel of the state, by turning their most fundamental human connections into mere legal constructs at the state’s disposal”.
To highlight the revolutionary nature of such a change, Farrow points out that our traditional understanding of marriage, far from being what postmodernist academics would consider a mere Judeo-Christian artifact, is rooted in the natural law. In countries with a common-law tradition, the definition of marriage as “a voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” follows that of Roman jurisprudence as formulated by Modestinus in the third century: “Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, a consortium for the whole of life involving the communication of divine and human rights”.
But marriage and family are not the only casualties of same-sex marriage. More generally, it is the core ethos of a society that is at stake. In this respect, Farrow notes that the Supreme Court of Canada has developed a distinction between civil and religious marriage that follows the French model, ie, one that deals with “civil marriage and religious marriage as if they referred to two different things, rather than to two different ways of enacting the same thing”, thus suggesting that there is no need to be concerned about the relationship between religion and politics.
This facile distinction, explains Farrow, serves to reinforce the notion that religion is a purely private matter and that nothing is being taken away from religion. Yet, this implies “that religious marriage can have no public significance and that civil marriage need not concern itself with any religious truth, even with the truth of natural law”. Thus, same-sex marriage does impact on the relation between marriage and religion.
In effect, the Supreme Court’s distinction between religious and civil marriage authorizes the state to take possession of marriage in a way that seriously compromises the whole concept of limited government. Quoting F.C. Decoste, a law professor at the University of Alberta, Farrow emphasizes that the appropriation of marriage by the state turns the latter into a “redemptive state…a state convinced that its proper purpose is to improve its subjects by imprinting on them, on their projects and character, the values that the state has made its own and declared superior”. In short, by assuming a position of dominance over civil society and the family, the state ends up exercising the role formerly left to the Church.
This is perhaps the most important element that Farrow brings to the debate on same-sex marriage and, given the complete lack of historical sense afflicting younger generations, one would only wish that he had provided a more elaborate explanation of the necessary link between Christian culture and civil freedoms. In The Modern Democratic State, British philosopher A.D. Lindsay explains how the latter grew out of a healthy tension between Church and state:
It was perhaps equally important that the existence and prestige of the Church prevented society from being totalitarian, prevented the omnicompetent state, and preserved liberty in the only way that liberty can be preserved, by maintaining in society an organization which could stand up against the state… The history of the relations between Church and state in the Middle Ages is the history of a long dispute waged with wavering fortune on either side…But the disputes between the secular power and the papacy, however long and embittered, were boundary disputes. Neither party denied that there were two spheres, one appropriate to the Church, the other to the state. The Christian always knew that he had two loyalties: that if he was to remember the apostle’s command ‘to be subject unto the higher powers”, he was also to remember that his duty was ‘to obey God rather than man’… There are things which are Caesar’s and things which are God’s. Men might dispute as to which were whose, but the fact of the distinction no one denied.
Thus, Farrow’s book is a warning about the implications of same-sex marriage not only on the nature of marriage and family, but also on the foundations of democratic freedoms. For those who still seek to defend the traditional understanding of family and marriage against the onslaught to which it is being relentlessly subjected to by the media and academia, it is a must read. Given the recent decision by the Supreme Court of California to allow same-sex couples to marry and current mounting pressures to redefine marriage in other jurisdictions, one can only hope that it will get all the attention it deserves.
This being said, there is one big question that Farrow leaves unanswered: why did homosexuals wait until the beginning of the 21st Century to assert that homosexual acts are entitled to the same legitimacy as are heterosexual relations in the context of marriage? The answer, I think, is the contraceptive mentality that is so deeply embedded in our culture. Destroying the link between the unitive and procreative ends of the one-flesh union necessarily leads to the unlinking of marriage and procreation. Under these circumstances, there is no reason to stop two people from marrying even when procreation is, by nature, impossible for them. If men and women can marry and not have children, why can’t homosexuals marry and not have children?
Attempts to highlight the negative impact of same-sex marriage on the family and the well-being of children have so far failed. Married people who contracept have embraced the view that sex is purely recreational. While somewhat embarrassed at the thought that the legal framework legitimizing the union of two homosexual persons is the same as that used for themselves, heterosexual couples have no grounds for objecting to its extension. They know that, in order to object to homosexual marriage, they would have to reaffirm the link between the unitive and procreative ends of one-flesh union, ie, to stop contracepting.
Unwilling to do so, they simply hold their noses and approve same-sex marriage. In short, the contraceptive lobby, whose outreach is currently quasi-universal, bears at least as much responsibility for the legitimization of same-sex marriage as does the homosexual lobby. There is a deep cultural dimension to the same-sex marriage issue that ought not to be ignored.
Richard Bastien is the director of the Canadian Catholic Civil Rights League for the National Capital Area and a contributing editor to Égards, a French language quarterly journal published in Quebec.