Saying marriage is about breeding is silly, whether you’re a bigot or not
On the first day of the election campaign last November, Stephen Harper vowed that he’d hold a free vote in Parliament about whether to once again outlaw same-sex marriage. It was his first promise, and among his most controversial.

Nearly a year later the promised free vote has been repeatedly delayed. We’re in no rush to see the issue reopened. As far as we’re concerned, it’s already been settled: gay couples deserve the same treatment as straight couples in the matter of government marriage recognition.

There are those who disagree, however. Among those considered most credible is Margaret Somerville, a McGill University ethicist who opposes same-sex marriage without referring to the book of Leviticus. Indeed, Somerville claims to be both a proponent of gay rights and opponent of gay marriage.

She recently addressed the subject in delivering the prestigious Massey Lectures, to be broadcast on CBC Radio Nov. 6-9, and published as a book from House of Anansi Press.

Her argument, excerpted from the forthcoming Anansi book The Ethical Imagination in The Globe and Mail Oct. 21, is premised on the assumption that the difference between hetero- and homosexuals is that homosexual relationships are not inherently procreative — this she sees as being of highest importance in the recognition of marriage.

“Marriage is a compound right: the right to marry and found a family. Opposite sex marriage establishes as the norm and institutionalizes the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman, and in so doing establishes children’s rights with respect to links to their biological parents and families,” she writes. “Because same-sex marriage is not an inherently procreative relationship, recognizing it necessarily negates that norm, and with that, children’s rights in this regard.”

Hogwash. The right to found a family and exist as a family is not tied to marriage in Canada today — common-law relationships are recognized as familial. Furthermore, procreation — having kids — occurs within and without marriage (and even without the existence of courtship, often); and we give no institutional preference to the fruits of marriage over the fruits of one-night stands.

And marriage is not tied to breeding: we allow marriage between those who are sterile or beyond their childbearing years, or those who simply do not want kids. No one (that we know of) suggests restricting senior citizens to “civil partnerships” because their wombs have dried up, or automatically downgrading marriages that prove to be childless after time.

Marriage in our society is many things, but it is not sacred (as both no-fault divorce and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? attest) and it is not tied to parenthood. Marriage in our society is the recognition of the desire of two adults to be recognized as a family unit. Kids are beside the point.

Somerville writes: “One can be, as I am, against same-sex marriage and against discrimination against homosexual people.” Somerville’s argument does not illustrate that position. Despite her protests, she argues for discrimination against homosexuals on a false assumption of what our society recognizes as the purpose of marriage.

The imprimatur of the Massey Lectures gives this ridiculous argument more credence than it deserves. It should be filed right next to the objections of religious dogmatists in the waste bin of irrelevance. We hope that, should this matter come before Parliament again in the near future, our legislators will recognize that.

Originally published on October 26, 2006 in Eye Weekly.