North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Slippery Identity

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Checking out Colby Cosh’s blog (yes, the guy that the National Post let go) led me to Tart Cider, a blog that he recommended. I’m always interested in new blogs, looking for things that are new an interesting to read. Cider isn’t to my taste for many reasons, some of them being nothing more than personal taste (I utterly refuse to wax nostalgic for the 1970’s, even when it’s camp). What I did want to comment on is Chris Selly’s idea that SSM is about rights, while polygamy is about freedom of religion.

Selly writes that conservatives ought to stop using the threat of SSM leading, via a ‘slippery slope‘, to legalized polygamy. Slippery slope arguments can be problematic, no doubt about it. I think the problem here is that when polygamy is brought up as the boogeyman in the SSM closet, there are two arguments at work. One is that polygamy will follow SSM in a temporal sense. If that is a slippery slope argument, I don’t think it is a controversial one, and more importantly it is not where the weight of the argument against SSM rests. The second argument is the one from which the temporal argument derives. Logically, what is being argued is not that SSM will lead to polygamy; what is being suggested is that the two things are related through a practical identity. They are, in important ways, the same. SSM and polygamy both dilute the importance of self sacrifice in family life.

In a well functioning traditional marriage, both man and women give up opportunities for sex and money and give themselves instead to the creation and raising of children. SSM couples have a tenuous relationship with monogamy, and one can see the problem – they are naturally sterile. One can add adopted children or children from previous families, but that doesn’t really put the relationship between SSM and monogamy on much better footing. Biological parents really are fused together in the form of their kids and their love for the kids can lead them towards a deeper bond with one another, and it can get them through hard times, failure and temptation. An SSM couple with kids is not the same kind of entity, and may be more prone to wander even before the lack of physical fusion is considered. Men especially ought to know this.

Generic polygamous ‘couples’ can see themselves fused into children who surround them, but they face a different hurdle – in effect they are placed in a position of trying to be in two places at the same time. Jealousy and resentment seem inevitable. In reality polygamy almost always means one man with many wives, and that means wives and children neglected by a lack of access to Dad’s time and money. B.C. has a polygamous community called Bountiful and there is no end to the number of tearful stories of neglect and abuse brought forward by women fleeing that community. This has been going on for years and years now.

Selly writes: “public opinion is far more forcefully against polygamy than it is against gay marriage, and that whereas homosexuals always numbered in the millions, the tiny number of Canadian polygamists means that public opinion is far less likely to shift.” I have no doubt that what he says about Canadian public opinion is correct- and quite beside the point. In arguing against the right of Canadians to have a say on this issue via a referendum, people always point out that minority rights are not subject to a public vote. That means that polygamists will be able to claim the same standing before the courts that gays have claimed. If public opinion is all that we are standing on, we are on a thin reed indeed.

Properly functioning courts ought to ignore public opinion and rule on matters of fact and law, and the fact is that from a practical point of view, SSM and polygamy are logically similar. They are about breaking and / or diluting the relationship between spouses, and the relationship between parent and child, and replacing them with a relationship that has more to do with individual rights. A referendum on the issue would not be a ruling on minority rights, but a ruling on what limits, if any, the Canadian people are willing to place on their government and courts, and on how far individual rights go. Is everything under government rule? Are there no free standing traditions and institutions? Must everything be rationalized according to merely present whims?

Isn’t that a bit like saying that each of us must build our entire physical and emotional support system anew each day?


Written by Curt

December 29, 2004 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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