The Lovejoy Factor
As a rhetorical trope, the children card is most often played near the end of a debate, to disguise and divert attention from serious issues raised by your opponent. Who can oppose the children, after all, without seeming monstrous? And so it went with the debate on the government's marriage resolution last week. Same sex marriage, we were told by parliamentarians who supported the traditional definition of marriage, wasn't a rights issue, wasn't about the government's shameful attempt to deprive an identifiable minority their Charter rights, wasn't about the freedom of churches, like the United Church or the Quakers (among others) to marry whom they please, against a monolithic version of Christianity championed by the religious right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy, wasn't about (least of all) homophobia, as exemplified by the vile and disgusting web traffic on the right side of bloggerdom. It was really about the children all along.
A selection, by no means exhaustive, of parliamentary wisdom on children during the marriage debate:
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC): The debate over traditional marriage should be a debate about rights, I agree. However, in the blind dash to put a patchwork of rights together, have we ignored the rights of children? Again, let me make a direct appeal to my fellow parliamentarians. For the sake of future generations, for the sake of our country, let us remember the children. . .
. . .
We need a debate to review the impact, not just on people who wish to marry but one that also reviews the impact of that decision on the most vulnerable among us, our children.
Again, my request is simple and clear. For the sake of democracy, for the sake of our children, for the sake of future generations and for the sake of the future of our country, let us have a full, open and honest debate.
Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.): The second, and more troubling, consequence is that we will need to redefine parenthood and limit children's rights. We already see the same sex couples, who are inherently sterile, asking courts to declare that their child, conceived by whatever means, is in fact their child, regardless of the biological rights. As Margaret Somerville has said, “society to become complicit in intentionally depriving children of their rights with respect to their biological family”
Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, CPC): I will now speak on the impact of marriage on the most valuable and yet the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. I believe children thrive in families and families are based on marriage. While the essence of this debate concerns adult relationships, we must recognize that the debate on marriage has a direct impact on the welfare of our children.
As it is the goal of the government to protect its citizens, particularly its most vulnerable citizens, it is, indeed, appalling that the previous government turned its back on the most important and fundamental component of our country, our children.
Mr. Rod Bruinooge (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC):My elders have clearly told me that small, isolated aboriginal communities must continue to teach their children that marriage is between a man and a woman. One elder told me, “What message would we be giving our communities if we did not teach our children the importance of traditional marriage?"
Mr. Bev Shipley (Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, CPC): This is a stern reminder that children have rights, rights that need to be taken into account. It is a reminder that our personal lifestyle preferences should never take precedence over those of our children.
Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC): In the same way that my heart is dedicated to ensuring that my child is protected, our collective heart should be set on ensuring that our nation's children are given a voice in this debate.
So what about the children? Do opponents of same sex marriage really have the rights of children at heart? You have to wonder. In almost an obscene irony, the day of the marriage vote an NDP member got up during Question Period and pointed out to the government that that 4,779 children were served in Toronto homeless shelters last year. Chris Warkentin, does that violation of rights --- the right to shelter and security --- trouble your conscience in the least? 1 in 6 children --- 1,196,000 of them --- live in poverty. Let us remember the children, indeed, Harold Albrecht. Any talk of children's rights from our esteemed parliamentarians is a parody, when 1 in 5 children in our country will go hungry today.
To be fair, the most vocal opponents of same sex marriage, the religious right, have not been silent in using children to tug at the heartstrings: I heard Charles McVety of Defend Marriage Canada at least twice speak out in the mainstream media about children's rights in the context of the marriage debate. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the umbrella organization of conservative churches in this country, is "deeply concerned" about the rights of children but is doing . . . nothing, or almost, about the issues of child poverty, homelessness or hunger. No letter writing campaigns, no lobbying MPs, no pressure on the Conservative government they helped to elect.
That rushing sound you hear is the sense of proportionality going out the window. Balanced against the putative and wholly speculative rights of the children of gay and lesbian families, we have actual children, in their hundreds of thousands, who are living lives of dire misery with proven consequences for the well-being of our country. If we are going to speak about the rights of children, let us --- and our political and religious leaders --- get our priorities straight.