The broken windows theory of marriage (National Post, January 26, 2005)
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 editorial board dismiss "slippery slope" worries about polygamy gaining recognition. Jonas says polygamy may not be unnatural or even un-Christian 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 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 judgment?
Coyne says that polygamists could already have petitioned to challenge Canada's ban, but haven't, and the editorial board agrees, adding, "that's not going to change regardless of how the gay marriage vote plays out."
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 its windows. The car is then vandalized and stripped within hours. Gay marriage is that broken window. 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.
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 public achievements, not the motives people have for entering into it.
The propaganda campaign on behalf of gay marriage ignores this important fact, instead focusing attention on the boundary-blurring monogamous romantic love many gay couples enjoy. Decades ago, when marriage's many other functions were tacitly understood, this tactic would not have worked. But our liberal, sex-obsessed era privileges erotic attachment over all other motives for marriage.
Gay marriage activists who break metaphorical car windows have no moral advantage over polygamists who slash metaphorical tires. If gender is irrelevant to marriage, why not numbers? The legal director of the Utah branch of the American Civil Liberties Union says, "Talking to Utah's polygamists is like talking to gays and lesbians who really want the right to live their lives."
Polygamist Muslims are already enjoying special dispensations in Ireland and the U.K. that are not (yet) available here. If some Canadian Muslims want official status for a traditional cultural norm, are they "un-Canadian," as Jonas believes? Conservatives think so, but thanks to Canada's self-defeating official commitment to multiculturalism, culturally based polygamy has -- in theory -- a strong case for parity with sexual orientation rights.
My guess is that polygamist Muslims and Christian sects won't be successful if they plead the Charter. Our activist judges will overcome their knee-jerk sympathy for minority cultural interests, not through logic or Charter-based reasoning, but simply because they perceive polygamy to be a practice demeaning to women, whose interests generally trump other group claims in judges' eyes.
In 1997, the Law Commission of Canada published a report, Beyond Conjugality. One of its recommendations was to establish a legal structure validating interdependent personal relationships: sexual partnerships, friends, siblings, etc. In a footnote the report's authors stated that they saw no reason in principle to limit registered partnerships to two people (my emphasis). In a 2003 Weekly Standard article, Stanley Kurtz called the commission's report "the first real triumph of the family law radicals." These words may yet prove prescient.
Indeed, a nascent form of polygamy already enjoys judicial encouragement. Not long ago, a triple-parenting case in Quebec involving a lesbian couple and a sperm donor would have ended in legal parental status for all three people, but for the willing judge's regret that he lacked jurisdiction. Triumvirate parenting is polygamy from a child's point of view -- children with three equal-status parents don't know or care who sleeps with whom -- and it is bound to become a legitimate contingency to gay marriage. More smashed windows.
Gay rights advocates appropriated the false analogy of racial miscegenation laws to advance their own agenda of a bogus "equality." It shouldn't surprise them if polygamists, with parallel chutzpah regarding gay marriage, take up the same Rights baton to batter into useless scrap metal what once was the elegantly efficient engine empowering a healthy and stable society: marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
© National Post 2005