September 2, 2002 Issue Full Text

With scarcely a peep of protest from Christians, marriage was wrecked long, long ago

by Ian Hunter
The Report Newsmagazine

CHRISTIAN and conservative e-mail activists--at least the ones I hear from--are steamed up about the Ontario court decision in July invalidating the historic, and statutory, definition of marriage as "the union of a man and a woman." The court held that this definition violates the "equality" guarantee in section 15 of the Charter of Rights, because it discriminates against homosexuals.

The e-mailers rail that the court has destroyed the institution of marriage.

Well, what did they expect?

Has it not been crystal clear for more than a decade that the Charter requires that all Canadians bow down and worship the great goddess Equality? The objectors should save their rancour for those politicians who gave us the Charter, for the Court Challenges Program that funds its litigation, and for those individual Christians--and some Christian groups--who somehow manage to discern in every successive Charter defeat (Trinity Western, Brockie, etc.) the mirage of victory. These will no doubt urge Christians to subsidize even more costly appeals, as if, despite its track record, the Supreme Court of Canada might suddenly prove receptive to Christian views; rather like proposing an appeal to the mullah Omar to undo the destruction wrought by agents of Osama bin Laden.

In any case, the once-noble institution of marriage was in shambles long before this Ontario court applied the judicial coup de grâce. Premier David Peterson (remember him?), former attorney general Ian Scott, and Bob Rae and Company were the equivalent of Tepermann Wrecking crews, demolishing marriage through the Family Law Act, and a succession of related statutes, in the 1980s. So there was little left but ruins for this court to survey.

In the same week that the Ontario court held the traditional definition of marriage to be "under-inclusive," Statistics Canada reported that practically no one under the age of 30 wants to get married anyway. There are now 1.2 million common-law couples in Canada, up about 400% in two decades.

Why has marriage become unpopular?

First, because the lifelong emotional security that marriage was once thought to provide has proved to be a myth in an era when half of marriages end in divorce. In fact, one might mount a credible argument that no-fault divorce sounded the death knell of marriage.

Second, the economic benefits that marriage once provided are illusory; some economists suggest that the greater benefits (tax treatment, etc.) accrue to couples who live together rather than those that marry.

Third, in an era when people insist on writing their own vows, and many clerics are happy to accommodate almost any syrupy nonsense, a contemporary marriage ceremony most often resembles one of those brainless Hollywood chick-flicks, embarrassing alike to participant and spectator.

In light of such new realities, a clergyperson consulted by a couple considering marriage should send them, without delay, either to a psychiatrist or to (separate) lawyers. If one of the would-be spouses has greater assets, his lawyer will quickly alert him to the lurking, rapacious provisions of the Family Law Act should his expectations of connubial bliss prove ephemeral. Marriage "contracts" are the order of the day, but how are they consistent with a Christian view?

Two years ago, the Canadian government enacted Bill C-23 which required equal treatment of all couples, married or common-law, homosexual or heterosexual, who live together in a "conjugal relationship" for one year. In light of such legislation, it is ridiculous to carry on as though marriage in Canada circa 2002 retains even a vestige of its Christian origins.

It would be interesting to know what might happen if a church had the will and the courage to sever its connection with the State in order to perform unregistered "Christian" marriages. Would there be takers? I suspect there might be, at least among those who love God but loathe the State. But the question is academic; it will remain unanswered because the largest churches, Protestant at least, are going in the opposite direction: they are busy devising ceremonies and liturgies, almost pawing the ground in anticipation, of the coming "gay-marriage" market.

A reversion to a Christian view of marriage is not about to happen in Canadian churches. They have come to terms with Caesar. They will render to the goddess Equality whatever she demands, for neither courage nor conviction are among their attributes. In fact, I go further: within a decade, it is safe to predict that the United and Anglican churches, at least, will be issuing fulsome apologies to our gay brothers and sisters for all those shameful years of exclusion. "What could we have been thinking to imagine that something as ephemeral as scripture should once have stood in the way of anyone's right to self-fulfillment?" Whether such apologies will be sufficient to deter the class-action lawsuits, we shall have to wait and see.

Andrew Coyne, writing in the National Post, gave the most succinct verdict on the Ontario decision: "Talk about being left at the altar. Just as the gays are finally to be allowed into the house of marriage, everyone else is departing."

Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the faculty of law at the University of Western Ontario
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