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HOMOSEXUAL (SAME-SEX) MARRIAGES IN CANADA

Ads by Focus on the Family Canada in support of the "protection" of "traditional marriage"

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Sponsored link.


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Quotations:

Would you believe that the following comments are in response to the same newspaper and radio advertisements?

bullet"The ad is designed to encourage mothers and fathers while promoting the idea that marriage is worth protecting." Derek Rogusky, vice-president of family policy for Focus on the Family Canada. 1
bullet"It is these messages that say to people that it is all right to load up their cars with baseball bats and beat someone to death because he/she is gay." Excerpt from a letter published in the letter-to-the-editor section of the Vancouver Province newspaper. 1

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Overview:

Focus on the Family Canada is one of the most active Fundamentalist Christian groups in Canada. They created a "mom 'n' dad" ad which is scheduled to "...appear in 25 daily newspapers, two national dailies, 20 community papers and four other publications, with as many as four insertions" each, starting in early 2004-MAY. 2 These ads have been followed up by a series of radio commercials which promote the same concept: opposite-sex couples form families which are the backbone of the country; their marriages should be protected. It sounds like a simple, positive message. But some Canadians consider it to be hate literature. How can one ad produce such different responses? One word in the ad -- "protect" -- can be interpreted in at least two different ways:

bulletSome take it to mean that families headed by opposite-sex couples need protection. The print media, TV, radio, and entertainment industries are devaluing opposite-sex marriage; many couples are deciding to just live together these days without marrying; marital separation rates, divorce rates, and intra-family abuse are still very high.
bulletOthers decode it as containing a hate-filled message, that families headed by opposite-sex couples need protection. If same-sex couples continue to be allowed to marry, then the institution of opposite-sex marriage will disintegrate. Same-sex couples cannot be as good parents as opposite-sex couples. We must prevent them from marrying in order to save Canadian society from a massive moral decline.

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About Focus on the Family Canada, and their ads:

Focus describes themselves as follows:

"Focus on the Family (Canada) Association is a non-partisan registered charitable organization that promotes the principles of healthy family living,. We do not endorse or oppose any particular political candidate or party." 3

Like all registered charities in Canada, they are not allowed to play an active political role. However, we do not recall any instance in which they opposed any legislation or programs which were promoted by Canada's far-right political party -- formerly called the Canadian Alliance Party and now called the Conservative Party of Canada.

Like their American parent organization, Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO, they are a socially and religiously conservative para-church organization. Focus quite actively opposes many topics related to choice in human sexuality: same-sex marriage, access to abortion, equal rights for gays and lesbians, comprehensive sex-ed programs in schools, sexual activity before marriage, etc.

During the Week of 2004-MAY-2, Focus started placing full-page advertisements in newspapers across Canada. Their ads featured a picture of an attractive opposite-sex couple, presumably married. The father holds his young son, who appears to look worried and insecure. The son seems to be reaching out his hand to his father's arm for support. In the background are dozens of men and women. Almost all are obviously Caucasian. Below the picture, a caption states:

"We believe in Mom and Dad. We believe in marriage. The family is a schoolroom for life, and lasting lessons come from a man and a woman -- a father and a mother. We believe in mom and dad. Their marital commitment to each other and their parental commitment to their children is the foundation to our society. Traditional marriage -- if you believe in it, protect it. To learn more, visit www.focusonthefamily.ca." 4,5

On MAY-12, they started a series of radio ads which broadcast the same message.  1

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Possible interpretation 1: These ads are simply supporting the most common form of marriage:

There was varied reaction to the ads among the public. In their Email mailing list "Today's Family News," for 2004-MAY-13, Focus reported that some people contacted Focus and offered "praise and encouragement." But there were also negative responses. Derek Rogusky, Focus' vice-president of family policy, told Lifesite News that: "It is sad that the words from our ad campaign....are now a political statement causing people to take great offence. The ad is designed to encourage mothers and fathers while promoting the idea that marriage [by opposite-sex couples] is worth protecting." 1 His comments seem to indicate that they had only a positive intent when running their ads.

We will try to make the case below that the Focus ads are intended to support all families which happen to be headed by opposite-sex couples, and that they do not imply an attack on same-sex married coples:

bulletUntil mid-2003, 100% of all marriages in Canada were by opposite-sex couples. By early 2004, when the newspaper and radio ads appeared, probably fewer than 1% of all existing marriages in the country were by same-sex couples. This percentage is expected to increase gradually as some loving, committed same-sex couples exercise their right to marry. But that is in the future and the eventual percentages of each form of marriage are merely speculation.
bulletFocus may have chosen to discuss marriages involving opposite sex couples because they form the vast majority of married spouses in Canada.
bulletTheir image showing an opposite-sex couple with a child and their comment: "The family is a schoolroom for life, and lasting lessons come from a man and a woman -- a father and a mother" is an accurate portrayal of the couple shown and for the vast majority of other Canadian children -- those who are parented by by an opposite-sex couple. But it is not inclusive of all Canadian families. Some are headed by:
bulletTwo men.
bulletTwo women.
bulletA single mother.
bulletA single father.
bulletA foster parent or parents.

These families, which are a minority, also provide "a schoolroom for life" from which a child receives "lasting lessons."

bulletFocus is correct in stating that opposite-sex spouses' commitment to each other and to their children is truly the "foundation of our society." It will remain so. Even if marriages by same-sex couples eventually total 5% of all marriages, they would have little numerical impact on marriage in Canada. Opposite-sex couples will always remain in the vast majority.
bulletTheir comment: "Traditional marriage -- if you believe in it, protect it" is the key to understanding the ad. It is obvious that marriage is indeed failing in Canada. The institution of marriage needs our support and protection:
bulletConsider how "living together" without marriage has become accepted in the past few decades:
bulletIn 1959, not even two generations ago, Bertrand Russell was the focus of bitter controversy because of his book "Marriage and Morals." 6 The public strongly objected to his open discussion and advocacy of trial marriages.
bulletIn 1961 when the author of this essay was married, society frowned on young couples living together, or even engaging in sexual activity together before marriage.
bulletVery late in the 20th century, the norm in North America was for young couples to live together before their first marriage. We have seen estimates that 90 to 97% of young couples are sexually active before their first marriage.
bulletToday, a significant minority of committed couples have chosen to live together in a long-term arrangement because they prefer it to marriage.
bulletConsider the negative impact of television on marriage:
bulletTwenty two million people saw "Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire," a FOX-TV program on 2000-FEB-16, in which a bevy of women competed with each other to marry a rich stranger. Columnist and music critic, Patrick Schabe, wrote: "The very idea....is decidedly sickening. Take 50 beauty queens...., let them compete in a pageant...., and the grand prize winner gets to marry a millionaire, live on TV, whom they not only have never met, but have never seen." 7
bulletIn the "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette" "Joe Millionaire" "For Love or Money," and "Average Joe" reality programs, a contestant selects their favorite from among 25 or so potential spouses. They propose a life-long marriage to the winner after having actually been in their presence for only a few hours.
bulletIn "Temptation Island" and similar programs, actors attempt to have affairs with contestants who are engaged to be married, with the hope that some of the engagements will not survive the adventure. The announcer wonders: "Who will stay together? Who will be torn apart? Find out here on Temptation Island."
bulletAnd then there is the contempt for marriage exhibited by some pop stars. For example:
bulletJason Alexander and Britney Spears, both 22, married in Las Vegas, NV, on 2004-JAN-3. She applied for an annulment two days later, and received it within about two hours. The marriage endured for fewer than 55 hours in total. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Alexander said: "It was just crazy, man. And we were just looking at each other and said, 'Let's do something wild, crazy. Let's go get married, just for the hell of it.' " Spear's petition for annulment stated: "Before entering into the marriage the plaintiff and defendant did not know each other's likes and dislikes, each other's desires to have or not have children, and each other's desires as to state of residency. Upon learning of each other's desires, they are so incompatible that there was a want of understanding of each other's actions in entering into this marriage." 8
bulletFinally, there is the high divorce rate among spouses who marry for the first time, and an even higher rates for second and third marriages. Marital separations, spousal abuse and child abuse are also at unacceptably high levels.

So, Focus does have a point. Marriage as an institution is in deep trouble in North America. It needs all the support and protection it can get if it is to be restored to its past status. Some of the ways in which individuals can seek changes that will encourage successful marriages might be:

bulletPromote laws that would require couples to successfully complete a pre-marital course before being eligible to marry.
bulletAdvocate for government subsidies so that engaged and married couples can obtain counseling services.
bulletAdvocate for lower taxes for married couples.
bulletAdvocate for comprehensive courses in schools dealing with sexual activities, communications skills, budgeting, abuse prevention, and other topics related to relationships and marriage.
bulletStop watching reality shows that denigrate marriages. The networks will not create them unless the ratings are sufficiently high to generate sufficient advertising revenue.
bulletDon't buy records or movies of performers whose behavior denigrates marriage.

It can be argued that this was the intent of Focus' ad campaign.

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What exactly is "traditional marriage?"

Before analyzing the second interpretation -- that the Focus on the Family ads are an attack on same-sex couples and their marriages -- it is necessary to understand exactly what Focus means by "traditional marriages."

In past eras, marriage in North America was primarily a contract between two families. It usually required payment of a dowry. Often, spouses did not select each other; they were selected by their families of origin. Sometimes they didn't even have the opportunity to see each other before marriage. Love sometimes developed. Spousal abuse was common. However, this is probably not the type of marriage to which Focus is referring in their ads.

During the first half of the 19th century in North America, "marriage" generally meant the union of a male Caucasian to a female Caucasian. African-Americans were not allowed to marry in some U.S. states. These racist laws were overturned at the end of the Civil War. This is probably not what Focus means, either.

Before they were at least temporarily suspended in 1890, polygynous marriages had been practiced and encouraged by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) for about 60 years. These involve the marriage of one man to more than one wife. The date of the start of plural marriages is unclear because the LDS only publicly acknowledged their practice of polygyny in 1852. Small Mormon groups in British Columbia, Canada, still practice polygyny. Their marriages are protected by the religious freedom clauses of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution. This type of marriage is probably not what Focus means, either, by the term "traditional marriage" even though these groups have practiced plural marriages for over a century.

Prior to 1967, only couples of the same race were allowed to marry in 16 U.S. states. This ended with a decision of the U.S. Supreme Law -- ironically called "Loving v. Virginia" -- in which an inter-racial couple was able to have all of the miscegenation laws in that country declared unconstitutional. Intra-racial marriages is probably not what Focus means, either.

Focus on the Family Canada probably is referring to what is more precisely called "opposite-sex marriage:" i.e. the consensual union of any one man to any one woman, limited only by considerations of age and consanguinity. That is, support "traditional marriage" actually implies opposition to "same-sex marriage."

A small sampling of web sites by religious and social conservative groups seems to confirm this conclusion. They define the term "traditional marriage:"

bulletAmerican Family Association, who bills themselves as "America's Largest Pro-family Action Site" states that traditional marriage, "...between a man and woman is the God-ordained building block of the family." 9
bulletThe Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops states that "...the redefinition of marriage by including same-sex partners would mean a devaluation of traditional marriage as the basis of the family and as an essential institution for the stability and equilibrium of society." 10
bulletA statement issued by the World Congress on the Family II conference, held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1999-NOV used the term "natural family" in one of their statements." They wrote: "The natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centred around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage." 11
bulletThe Orthodox Church of Canada stated: "In some instances, homosexual unions have already received civil legal recognition and in others there exists legislative proposals to afford this or to equate such unions within the traditional definition of marriage." 12
bulletThe sponsors of the church-centered Sanctity of Marriage Week in Canada define traditional marriage as: "...a lifelong, voluntary covenant relationship of one man and one woman. Celebrants will be reminded that traditional marriage is the basis of the family and is an essential institution for the stability and equilibrium of society." 13
bulletChristianity Today, North America's largest Evangelical Christian publication, contained an article titled "Weblog: The End of Traditional Marriage?" in their 2003-NOV-17 issue. It discussed the ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court "that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution."

(Emphasis are ours)

It seems that, among conservative Christians, there is a near consensus that "traditional marriage" means a consensual formalized union of one man and one woman of any racial makeup, who are of a sufficient age, and who are not too closely related. in what is intended to be a lifelong covenant. We can probably assume that this is what Focus on the Family Canada means when they refer to "traditional marriage" in their ads. That is, they would intentionally exclude married same-sex couples and married polyandrous couples from the term.

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Possible interpretation 2: These ads are an attack on same-sex marriage:

If we assume that the term "traditional marriage" in their ads refer to only marriages between a man and a woman, then their ads may mean that:

bulletOnly an opposite-sex couple can be effective parents.
bulletChildren require exposure to both a mother and father in order to properly mature.
bulletThe statement: "Traditional marriage -- if you believe in it, protect it," is equivalent to "Try to pressure the government into re-banning same-sex marriage." It may suggest that Canadians advocate for a change in laws and regulations so that:
bulletThe state will de-register existing same-sex married couples, and thus forcibly divorce them.
bulletSame-sex couples are once again denied the opportunity to marry the person with whom they have formed a committed, loving relationship.
bulletCancel health and other protections for their children.
bulletSchool children are taught that same-sex couples make incompetent parents.

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Public response to the ads:

The Vancouver Province newspaper carried a number of letters to the editor about the Focus ads.

bulletOne reader wrote: "It is these messages that say to people that it is all right to load up their cars with baseball bats and beat someone to death because he/she is gay."
bulletAnother reader, in response to the above letter, wrote: "I couldn't believe the hatred, ignorance and intolerance directed at Focus on the Family, which is a Christian organization...In the ad, no references were made to any person of a certain sexual orientation and yet it was turned into a 'hate' crime to support family traditions -- marriage, mom and dad."

Focus posted a number of positive letters to the editor in their family newsletter:

bulletA & SS of Hamilton, ON, wrote: "We have subscribed to The Spectator for 10 years and were very pleased to see the advertisement from Focus on the Family. Research tells us children are the healthiest physically, mentally, and emotionally when they are raised by both a mother and father in a married relationship. The devastating societal consequences of no-fault divorce and common-law unions attest to this. Same-sex marriage is another social experiment with potentially damaging and longstanding consequences for future generations. We commend The Spectator for running these ads."
bulletDF of Burlington, ON, wrote: "Thank you so much for running the 'We Believe in Mom and Dad' ad. It was a pleasure to read and they restored my faith in fairness in our society. Thank you for being brave enough to run them."
bulletLO of Edmonton, AB, wrote: "A big thanks for the wonderful display ad on traditional marriage by Focus on the Family. I am a Canadian who believes that marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of a strong society. Hats off to Focus on the Family for standing up for what they believe in by producing a positive and tasteful ad." 15

Don Sellar, the Ombud of the Toronto Star newspaper received a dozen complaints about the ad that appeared in their MAY-8 edition. Some of their comments were:

bullet"It's closet hate advertising with an underlying message of hate towards gays...I can't believe the Star is publishing this ad, making money on anti-gay propaganda."
bullet"I find it discriminatory that anyone who is not a white heterosexual is a target of this group, as they consider that to be a traditional marriage."
bullet"It's anti-gay, anti-Canadian and completely offensive to more people than you can imagine."
bullet"If you read closely, this advertisement promotes fearful bigotry and is hurtful to families like mine: a legally married, two-father family with an adopted child. Single parents and families headed by either gender or any sexual orientation can raise good children. Good parenting and healthy family building isn't reserved only for married heterosexual couples. That's a myth, and it's a hurtful insult to Canadians to suggest otherwise."  2

Sellar published excerpts from the Star's guidelines for its advertisers: "If you believe that life begins from the moment of conception, or that the traditional two-parent family is an institution of incalculable benefit, or that members of a particularly community should unite in the cause of justice in their native land, say so. Please do not ask us to publish statements to the effect that those who condone abortions are condoning murder, that homosexuals are sinners, or that a particular group should avenge the deaths of their countrymen." 2

Sellar commented: "By publishing advocacy ads from political parties, lobby groups, trade unions, corporations and religious organizations, the Star isn't endorsing the advertiser's viewpoint. It's only renting its presses to those who can't afford to buy one. As Voltaire famously didn't write in a quotation often attributed to him: 'I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.' Within reasonable limits, of course. This is Canada, after all." 2

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Useful information on marriage from Focus' web site:

Focus has published a very helpful article by Glenn T. Stanton, Director of Social Research and Cultural Affairs and Senior Analyst for Marriage and Sexuality at Focus on the Family. It is titled: "Why marriage matters for adults." The essay notes that surveys to date have found that marriage benefits adults in many ways. There is "...an intimate link between marital status and personal well-being." When compared to singles, married couples:

bulletLive longer, healthier and happier lives.
bulletHave lower rates of alcoholism.
bulletHave higher activity levels.
bulletSpend half as much time as patients in hospitals.
bullet"...have the lowest morbidity [illness] rates."
bulletHave lower death rates, "...whether by accident, disease, or self-inflicted wounds..."
bulletHave lower rates of mental illness.
bulletMake better parents.
bulletAre better and more reliable employees.
bulletInvest more money.
bulletEat better diets.
bullet"...live a more stable, secure and scheduled lifestyle."

Not mentioned in the Focus article are other likely factors. Married couples probably:

bulletHave sex with far fewer partners and thus have lower rates of HIV infection, AIDS and other STDs.
bulletHave lower rates of drug abuse.
bulletLower their financial drain on the health care system.
bulletRaise more mentally healthy children than do single parents.

The studies suggest that married couples seem to do better because they:

bulletGive each other emotional support.
bulletHave higher incomes.
bulletEnjoy a higher level of sexual pleasure.

Some other reasons why married couples lead longer happier lives may be that spouses:

bulletAre more likely to enjoy a long-lasting loving relationship.
bulletAre able to monitor each other's health.
bulletOften have children to whom they commit.
bulletAre more likely to live in a house rather than an apartment.

These seven factors appear to be present in families headed by both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. It could be argued that same-sex marriage offers significant benefits for the spouses, for their children (if any), for the health care system, and for the country, when compared to the alternative lifestyles of singlehood or just living together with a partner. Focus' article may prove helpful to those agencies who promote equal marriage opportunities for all.

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References:

  1. "Focus ad campaign draws praise, condemnation," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family Canada, 2004-MAY-13. Online at: http://www.fotf.ca
  2. Don Sellar. "Mom 'n' Dad ad broke no rules," The Toronto Star, 2004-MAY-15, Page H6.
  3. Quoted from the statement at http://www.fotf.ca
  4. A copy of the ad can be seen at: http://www.fotf.ca/ This is a "PDF" file for which you may need software to view. It can be obtained free from:
  5. A modified version of the ad can be seen online at: www.focusonthefamily.ca
  6. Bertrand Russell, "Marriage and Morals," W.W. Norton & Company, (New edition, 1970). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  7. Patric Schabe, "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," PopMatters.com, at: http://www.popmatters.com/
  8. "Britney Spears marriage annulled. Singer and friend married 'just for the hell of it'," CNN.com, 2004-JAN-5, at: http://edition.cnn.com
  9. AFA Online," American Family Association, at: http://www.afa.net/
  10. "Statement on Marriage by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops," at: http://www.sanctityofmarriage.ca/
  11. "Statement on Marriage by Congress on the Family," at: http://www.sanctityofmarriage.ca/ The World Congress of Families' home page is at: http://www.worldcongress.org/
  12. "Statement on Marriage by the Orthodox Church of Canada," at: http://www.sanctityofmarriage.ca/
  13. "Sanctity of Marriage Week," 2003-SEP-1 to 7, at: http://www.sanctityofmarriage.ca/
  14. Glenn T. Stanton, "Why Marriage Matters for Adults," Focus on the Family Canada, 2003-MAR, at: http://www.fotf.ca
  15. "Mom 'N' Dad Ad Campaign winds down," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family Canada, 2004-MAY-21.

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Copyright 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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