By Mike Lushington
When I was a kid, back in the 1950's, marriage was understood to be the religious union of a man and a woman. primarily for the purpose of having legitimate children. This was in keeping with the fundamental teachings of Christianity, sanctified in the New Testament by the Parable of the Wedding Feast at Cana and in the teachings of Saint Paul. It had also taken on a legal implication in that the celebrants also had to obtain a civil licence, pay a fee, and have their marriage certificate registered. Whether a couple married as Roman Catholics or as followers of one of the Protestant denominations, the process was standard, and there was very little deviation from that standard. The concept of a "civil marriage" was synonymous with "living in sin" and the very few people who did so did not advertise their status.
Canada, at the end of the Second World War, was still a very parochial place in which to live. In Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, we had a "Colored Settlement" (as Black communities were called), there were a few Jewish and Chinese people who lived downtown - and that was about it for cultural diversity. Halifax was no different, nor was Saint John. The overwhelming percentage of the population was white, basically Anglo-Saxon, and Christian. I can remember a classmate in Grade four - a girl from Quebec who spoke French; she was treated as an exotic creature from some remote, almost unimaginable part of a world about which we knew very little and, truth be told, cared less.
How things have changed in the last fifty years. This truth struck home recently as I grappled with my reactions to the Federal Government's decision to legitimize same-sex marriages.
From the outset, I realized that I had no particular objections to the concept.I have always, I think, been tolerant of other people's differences; all I have ever asked from anyone in this regard is that they extend to me the same rights to individual preferences and tastes as I have been prepared to extend to them.
In the past fifty years, Canada has become one of the most diverse, pluralistic societies on earth. We recognize as Canadian citizens people from every imaginable social, political, religious, and philosophic background. It is to our collective credit that we do so. But it does demand that we revise our thinking on a great many topics that at one time seemed so clearly and simply defined. Nowhere is this truer than in our concept of what marriage is.
As I see it, marriage has devolved into a civil, legal contract. People who wish to become legally married are primarily asking that their union be recognized by the state for the mutual protection of both partners and of their legatees. The government has the right to legalize such a relationship without passing moral judgement on any who request such legalization. Any moral judgement, any extension or retention of recognition, remains the prerogative of a church congregation, and this is within the jurisdiction of that body. Thus, for a homosexual couple to argue that they have a legal right to marry in Canada, as Canadian citizens, is one argument; to argue that they have those rights as members of a certain church is entirely different.
This has been a trying issue for many Canadians of my generation. It is to our credit as a nation of fair-minded and tolerant people that our government feels that it has the support of enough of us to take a step that is both courageous and controversial. No one, intellectual homosexuals among them, demands that everyone embrace such a decision. It is enough that we tolerate it, recognizing as we do that the right of an individual to be an individual is paramount, and to be able to practice that individuality with dignity is the mark of a mature, wise, and kind society.