Bedroom Politics

ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. (CUP) — The Yukon has become the latest Canadian unit to recognize the equivalence of a same-sex marriage to a standard heterosexual union.

I could easily make this column into a celebration of the latest small step towards the complete inclusion of homosexuals in mainstream society. It is a goal I favour and champion to anyone who asks me about it. But that would be just another partisan view, hardly able to sway anyone but those who already agree.

The conflict is between those who want the definition of marriage to be gender-blind, and those who want to reinforce the traditional man-woman definition.

The gender-blind argument in this debate goes: “Homosexuals are essentially no different from the rest of us, so gay marriages should have the same status as straight marriages.” The man-woman argument goes: “But a real marriage is between a man and a woman, so we should codify it in law.”

The question is clear: What is a marriage?

That depends on whom you ask. I know one couple that can’t even agree. She points out that after having lived together for one year, they are technically common-law married. He most certainly does not agree.

A stereotypical argument? Most certainly. But there was a time when even that definition of marriage would have set politicians on the rhetorical warpath. Whether it’s progressive recognition of a changing society or the defence of conservative family values, the basic viewpoints never really change. It doesn’t even really matter if you call the right or left. The point is that there are always some people willing to accept changes in society, and some who are not.

How we shall define marriage? That is what the politicians of Canada, America and Australia — where the gay marriage debates are most vocal — must decide right now. The legislators of these countries must work out what a marriage will be for their respective countries. It will affect how millions of people live their lives from the church to the courthouse, to the workplace, to the bedroom.

Hang on. Would you want Paul Martin telling you how to live your life in its most intimate detail, as a marriage surely is? How about Stephen Harper? Jack Layton? George Bush? John Kerry? These people can’t just show up at my house uninvited and start telling me what to do with my life.

No matter your personal taste, distaste or disgust with any or all of these public figures, the very notion of public debate on gay marriage led by politicians ignores the most important part of it. Marriage is an intimate relationship. What our politicians think marriage should mean is only relevant to their own individual households. Only because they hold legislative power do their views on the subject appear to matter more.

Should something as impersonal as the bureaucratic machine, the government, decide on the most personal elements of our lives? The prospect sounds uncomfortable. The argument over the definition of marriage should not be led by anyone. It should take place in every household in Canada.

But how, asks the hypothetical critic, is this house-unto-itself debate supposed to be put into legislation?

Why, I respond, should we want to bind our most personal intimacies with the cold chains of law?