A non-debate...for a non-audience
Colby Cosh has brought out a gigantic toolbox, and uses everything in it to defend his long-held position that legalizing SSM opens the door to further redefinitions of marriage, most obviously polygamy. Andrew Coyne takes the opposite position, with his typical intelligence and clarity. Norman Spector takes Coyne's side, and naturally, does it in that respectful, non-condescending tone for which he's become so beloved by "his" readers.
I've been putzing around the periphery of this (non-)debate, without having much to offer. I don't have the legal background or knowledge to comment on the statutes, and I haven't read enough about polygamy in practice to comment whether it's good, bad, or "bad, but should be permissible". (Sidebar - the sum total of my exposure to polygamy comes from a movie that played on A&E a few years ago at 1AM called "Child Bride of Short Creek". It starred the delightful Diane Lane, and the most famous Lethbridge native in the history of sitcoms as the patriarch.) (Gavin Crawford - you've still got a ways to go.)
So, perhaps I can apply my keen political insight to the issue (cough). On Friday, I said "I dunno" how this will play out. Here's a few thoughts.
Point the first: to borrow a phrase from Paulie Walnuts, that Spector's got some fuckin' balls. There's the not-trivial matter of deriding the sum of Colby Cosh's legal arguments without actually rebutting any of them, or even linking to his piece. (Norman Spector in the Globe & Mail: "All the class of Sheila Copps, with none of the entertainment value.") Probably worse it that the criticism centres around the writing ("..rendered into English by a translator who hadn't had a good night's sleep...").
I don't know what to say about this, except that the next time a Norman Spector column elicits an exhilarated or visceral reaction from me will be the first. He may well be the smartest man in Canada, but as writers and columnists, Cosh and Coyne are both way, way out of his league. As such, he should probably confine his criticisms to matters of substance.
Point the second: Cosh and Chris Selley both refer to this as a non-debate; I'm going to pick up on a thought I stumbled into on Friday and claim that it's also for a non-audience, at least the" legal" half of it.
Whose support of legal SSM is dependent on the answer to the question, "Will it necessarily lead to legal polygamy?" My contention is "No one's." There are certainly those who support the former and oppose the latter, but as Coyne demonstrated in his original piece on the topic, their SSM support is not at all conditional on the consequences re: polygamy. Those who are opposed to SSM are using the "threat" of SCC-mandated polygamy to bolster their position, but again, I'm not sure who it is they're trying to sway.
Point the third: what should Harper do? I've been working on this post for two days, and I've decided that I don't much care. It probably depends a bit on whether his priority is defeating SSM or winning the next election - I'm going to assume it's the latter.
I agree with Spector that Harper's in a pretty good position right now; I think the key going forward is to maintain a position that makes sense, and defend it. And if he actually wants to change anyone's mind, it's probably incumbent upon him to expand a bit on the "matter of conscience, support for the traditional family" mantra.
Step 1 should be to continue to underline that Conservative MPs will not be whipped, and can vote their conscience (or that of their constituents). I get the feeling that Paul Martin is not at all comfortable with a Liberal free vote, and will probably use all means short of the threat of expulsion to coerce backbench support for the government's position. The contrast here will probably be of benefit come election time.
Step 2 is explaining why the government should have any interest in the definition of marriage. If he's not willing to defend this, he should change tacks immediately and say that marriage should be up to churches and contract lawyers, and he wants no part of it. His recent rhetoric shows that he is, i.e. he believes that the stability and committment connoted by "marriage" is of benefit to the state. Of course, this means he has to concede that he doesn't believe that the stability and committment connoted by SSM has the same benefit. As such, he should probably say that he'd be willing to reconsider that in the future, based on the experiences of jurisdictions who have legalized SSM.
Step 3 (or Alternate Step 2) would be a non-religious defence of why this issue should be a "matter of conscience" at all. Colby Cosh and I cannot be the only two people who support people's rights to live in virtually any kind of arrangement they wish, but are unprepared to sign an affadavit stating our firm belief that a gay couple and a straight couple are exactly the same thing. I suspect Stephen Harper thinks the same way.
If he said so, would he a be a bigot, appealing to peoples' worst prejudices? I personally don't think so. But I also don't think my belief that men and women are different makes me sexist, and that's certainly a touchy subject as well.
Point the fourth: If there was a referendum tomorrow on SSM, I'd probably vote in favour. I think the notion of committment and permanence, not just connoted by, but expected or even demanded by marriage, is a good thing. Since same-sex couples will continue to exist next week and next year, regardless of what Andrew Coyne or Bishop Fred Henry thinks about it, I think the positive impact of marriage for same-sex couples outweighs any downside.
If my decision was based entirely on the virtue of "tolerance", however, I think I'd vote no with an exclamation point. I decline to reject outright what Cosh calls "the possibility of an innate biological complementarity between the sexes", and I freaking resent the complete intolerance of this thought by too many advocacy groups and newspaper editorial boards. I'm supporting SSM here - you can tolerate my reasons and the pause I have, or cram it sideways.