The Debate That Refuses to Die

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In June 1999,
Canada’s Parliament voted overwhelmingly to define marriage as a
union between one man and one woman. One would think that in a nation
ruled by laws this would be the end of the matter.

One would be
wrong.

On December
9, 2004, Canada’s Supreme Court overturned the law, ruling that
any law prohibiting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. At the
same time, the Court also ruled that the federal government had
the sole authority to amend the definition of marriage. To date,
the Supreme Court has failed to acknowledge the irony of giving
Parliament the right to define marriage while at the same time defining
it for them.

This legalistic
schizophrenia notwithstanding, the Court gave dissenting religious
denominations an escape clause, ruling that the Canadian Charter
of Rights and Freedoms’ protection of religious freedom granted
religious institutions the right to choose not to perform the same-sex
marriages.

Again, one
would think that this would be the end of discussion. And again,
one would be wrong.

In November
2005, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (an extra-judicial
body which functions very much like the famed Star Chamber) ruled
that a Vancouver Knights of Columbus chapter was required to pay
a lesbian couple nearly $2,500 for refusing to host their wedding
reception. Nearly five hundred dollars was to compensate the couple
for money they had spent in planning their wedding. The other two
thousand dollars was for hurt feelings.

A social conservative
might be forgiven for looking at this issue and observing that it
has followed a predictable course; from being prohibited, to being
tolerated, to being compelled.

Opponents of
same-sex marriage are rightly nervous, in the wake of the B.C. Tribunal’s
award, that in the future it will no longer be possible for a religious
denomination to say “No” to same-sex marriage. They also fear that
same-sex marriage represents the "thin edge of the wedge,"
and that it will open the door to marriage forms that are offensive
to most North Americans, in particular polygyny as practised in
numerous Muslim countries.

Those on the
other side of the issue insist that it is merely a question of basic
human rights, and that what we are seeing in Canada and elsewhere
is the inevitable forward march of individual freedoms.

THE BIG
QUESTION

Neither side
in this debate seems willing to ask the most basic question: What
is government doing in the marriage business in the first place?
For it is only in recent generations that government has played
any role at all in defining marriage. Under the Common Law, which
is purported to be the bedrock upon which all of Canada’s laws are
constructed, a couple is married once they’ve lived together for
one year or, if living together for less than a year, they have
a child together.

Why does government
care?

First, there’s
the matter of taxes. A quick look at a T1 Form (the Canadian “1040″)
shows that the government has six categories regarding one’s marital
status: married, living common-law, widowed, divorced, separated
and single. It is reasonable to think that a change in one’s status
would change the way one calculates any taxes payable. And, once
again, one would be wrong. From the government’s perspective, their
only concern is whether you’re filing jointly or singly. Period.
It helps to determine whether or not one is entitled to various
government-financed goodies. Otherwise it is merely a statistical
notation.

The second
reason government continues to have a role in defining marriage
goes back to the very nature of government itself: power and control.
As H.L. Mencken famously observed, “The urge to save humanity is
almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”

Thus the government
tells us that it is defining marriage in new ways in order to protect
human rights. According to this point of view, it is merely coincidental
that this alleged expansion of human rights also involves a greater
expansion of government control through yet more legislation and
unappealable rulings by non-judicial Human Rights Commissions.

The government
is limiting the freedom of human action in order to promote greater
freedom.

Please pause
for a moment and let the wisdom of that statement sink in.

FOLLOW THE
MONEY

There is yet
another reason why government wants to manage the marriage business.

Although the
number of marriages in Canada peaked at a little more than 200,000
in 1972, the 150,000-or-so marriages performed annually represent
a steady and lucrative source of revenue. A very conservative estimate
is that licenses and other government forms necessary to begin married
life net various levels of Canadian government at least $20,000,000
each year.

Although exact
figures are unavailable, tax revenue collected on goods and services
associated with weddings – from the hiring of the hall to the buying
of presents – easily represents hundreds of millions, and perhaps
billions, of dollars.

Marriage is
a very big business indeed, and the government demands its piece
of the action.

GETTING
GOVERMENT OUT OF THE MARRIAGE BUSINESS

Marriage used
to be a private matter between two people or, at most, two people’s
families. A clear distinction was made between marriage and a union
recognized by the authorities. One sees echoes of this today in,
for example, the 2005 marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker
Bowles. The couple took part in a civil ceremony and, later, in
a blessing authorized by the Church of England.

Apart from
government’s rapacious desire to control all facets of human life,
there is no reason at all why government couldn’t simply accept
as valid any civil union that was freely entered into. “Marriage”
would thus be left to each couple to define for themselves.

A permanent
solution to this ongoing marriage debate is available the moment
people stop relying on government to solve it for them.

First, a simple
change in tax regulations could re-define taxpayers as living either
singly or in a common-law relationship.

Second, those
people who believe in marriage as an institution could arrange and
pay for whatever religious or secular ceremony has meaning for them.
But such a ceremony would have no bearing whatsoever on one’s tax-relationship
with the government.

And that’s
it. No Supreme Court decisions. No new laws. In fact, numerous laws
could be scrapped and, across Canada, offices that exist solely
for the purpose of regulating marriage could be closed for good.

How much would
such a scheme cost Canadians? Nothing. How much would it save Canadian
taxpayers? Millions.

At the end
of the day, if Canadians are serious about freedom, the only way
they’ll get it is if they stop letting the government define it
for them.

October
10, 2006

George
Graham [send him mail]
is a freelance writer and former Director of Development with several
Canadian public policy research institutes. He lives east of Toronto,
Ontario.

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