HOMOSEXUAL (SAME-SEX) MARRIAGES IN CANADA
Ads by Focus on the Family Canada in support of
the "protection" of "traditional
Would you believe that the following comments are in response to the same
newspaper and radio advertisements?
||"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.
||"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.
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:
||Some 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
||Others 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.
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
"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,
On MAY-12, they started a series of radio ads which broadcast the same message.
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
||Until 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.|
||Focus may have chosen to discuss marriages involving opposite sex
couples because they form the vast majority of married spouses in Canada.|
||Their 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:|
||A single mother.
||A single father.
||A foster parent or parents.
These families, which are a minority, also provide "a schoolroom
for life" from which a child receives "lasting lessons."
||Focus 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. |
||Their 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:|
||Consider how "living together" without marriage has become accepted in the
past few decades:|
||In 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.
||In 1961 when the author of this essay was married, society frowned on
young couples living together, or even engaging in sexual activity together
||Very 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.
||Today, a significant minority of committed couples have chosen to live together
in a long-term arrangement because they prefer it to marriage.
||Consider the negative impact of television on marriage:|
||Twenty 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
||In 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.
||In "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."
||And then there is the contempt for marriage exhibited by some pop stars.
||Jason 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."
||Finally, 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
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:
||Promote laws that would require couples to successfully
complete a pre-marital course before being eligible to marry.
||Advocate for government subsidies so that engaged and married
couples can obtain counseling services.
||Advocate for lower taxes for married couples.
||Advocate for comprehensive courses in schools dealing with sexual
activities, communications skills, budgeting, abuse prevention, and other
topics related to relationships and marriage.
||Stop watching reality shows that denigrate marriages. The networks will
not create them unless the ratings are sufficiently high to generate
sufficient advertising revenue.
||Don't buy records or movies of performers whose behavior denigrates
It can be argued that this was the intent of Focus' ad campaign.
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
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:"
||American Family Association, who bills themselves as "America's
Largest Pro-family Action Site" states that traditional marriage,
a man and woman is the God-ordained building block of the family."
||The 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
||A 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
||The 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."
||The 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
||Christianity 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.
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:
||Only an opposite-sex couple can be effective parents.|
||Children require exposure to
both a mother and father in order to properly mature.|
||The 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
||The state will de-register existing same-sex married couples,
and thus forcibly divorce
||Same-sex couples are once again denied the opportunity to marry the
person with whom they have formed a committed, loving relationship.
||Cancel health and other protections for their children.
||School children are taught that same-sex couples make
Public response to the ads:
The Vancouver Province newspaper carried a number of letters to the
editor about the Focus ads.
||One 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."
||Another 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
||A & 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."
||DF 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."
||LO 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:
||"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."
||"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."
||"It's anti-gay, anti-Canadian and completely offensive to
more people than you can imagine."
||"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
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
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
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:
||Live longer, healthier and happier lives.
||Have lower rates of alcoholism.
||Have higher activity levels.
||Spend half as much time as patients in hospitals.
||"...have the lowest morbidity [illness] rates."
||Have lower death rates, "...whether by
accident, disease, or self-inflicted wounds..."
||Have lower rates of mental illness.
||Make better parents.
||Are better and more reliable employees.
||Invest more money.
||Eat better diets.
||"...live a more stable, secure and scheduled
Not mentioned in the Focus article are other
likely factors. Married couples probably:
||Have sex with far fewer partners and thus have
lower rates of HIV infection, AIDS and other STDs.
||Have lower rates of drug abuse.
||Lower their financial drain on the health care
||Raise more mentally healthy children than do
The studies suggest that married couples seem to do better because they:
||Give each other emotional support.
||Have higher incomes.
||Enjoy a higher level of sexual pleasure.
Some other reasons why married couples lead longer
happier lives may be that spouses:
||Are more likely to enjoy a long-lasting loving relationship.
||Are able to monitor each other's health.
||Often have children to whom they commit.
||Are 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.
"Focus ad campaign draws praise, condemnation," Today's
Family News, Focus on the Family Canada, 2004-MAY-13. Online at:
Don Sellar. "Mom 'n' Dad ad broke no rules," The Toronto Star,
2004-MAY-15, Page H6.
Quoted from the statement at
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:
A modified version of the ad can be seen online at: www.focusonthefamily.ca
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
Patric Schabe, "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire,"
"Britney Spears marriage annulled. Singer and friend married 'just
for the hell of it'," CNN.com, 2004-JAN-5, at:
AFA Online," American Family Association,
"Statement on Marriage by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,"
"Statement on Marriage by Congress on the Family," at:
http://www.sanctityofmarriage.ca/ The World Congress of Families'
home page is at:
"Statement on Marriage by the Orthodox Church of Canada," at:
"Sanctity of Marriage Week," 2003-SEP-1 to 7, at:
Glenn T. Stanton, "Why Marriage Matters for Adults," Focus on
the Family Canada, 2003-MAR, at:
"Mom 'N' Dad Ad Campaign winds down," Today's Family News, Focus
on the Family Canada, 2004-MAY-21.
Copyright © 2004 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson