May’s newsletter column dealt with Canada’s Supreme Court ruling that prohibiting same-sex marriages contravened our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although I try to address different subjects each month, I believe this issue warrants further discussion. The new ruling has been effected in practical terms, and lesbians and gays are marrying legally. Let’s contemplate some of the possible spin-off effects of these changes.
For instance, when a heterosexual couple argues and the woman turns to her friends and family for solace and support, she is typically advised to cool off, pick her battles, and figure out how best to resolve the problem. Her community’s expectation is that the marriage will survive and endure, and this in turn supports the couple in resolving their conflict. Men, likewise, are often reminded of their commitment and responsibility and after a conversation with their buddies, they return home to smooth out the wrinkle. The expectation of continuity is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, when gay and lesbian couples experience discord, they hear quite different messages. Gay couples are ‘expected’ to dissolve, often attributed to their ‘promiscuous’ lifestyles (another false stereotype, but nonetheless a powerful influence). Lesbian jokes abound about the ‘standard’ two and a half year relationship (one year of honeymoon, another of domestic stability followed by six months of unravelling prior to separation). These messages are subtle yet influential, and undermine the longevity of same-sex unions.
How might Canada’s inclusive marriage laws affect the community? I suspect that those who decried same-sex relationships as a threat to the family may now view those couples who opt to legalize their unions as supporting the same values. I’m hopeful that this may narrow the gap between homophobes and homosexuals. Socially, we view a spouse as more ‘valid’ than a boy- or girl-friend. As the definition of marriage expands, so too will that of ‘family.’ All married couples will have the same legal rights and responsibilities. Corollary laws (legal, medical, and educational concerns) will necessarily change to adapt to the laws governing marriage. The prophecy of serious, long-term commitment for same-sex couples may become, as for heterosexuals, self-fulfilling.
Perhaps I am being overly optimistic about the repercussions of our changing laws, and the social impact they may have. However, Canada is proving itself a leader in promoting such values as peace, inclusivity, and rationality. When I asked Silva Tenenbein, a seasoned activist, how she felt about Canada’s progressive politics and our new marriage laws, she replied, “I’m proud of being Canadian the same way I’m proud of being queer.” We’ve come a long way.