Some of us need to adjust our thinking.
one of the most important stupid things that smart people have been saying in Canada lately is that because something is legal, it is therefore good.
The mere fact something is explicitly allowed by law is
construed to mean it has the full endorsement of the State
and of all right-thinking people.
Same-sex marriage is an obvious example. Consider this
analysis by University of Western Ontario law professor
Bradley Miller (from a recent article in Public Discourse):
The formal effect of the judicial decisions (and sub-
sequent legislation) establishing same-sex civil mar-
riage in Canada was simply that persons of the same
sex could now have the government recognize their
relationships as marriages. But the legal and cultural
effect was much broader. What transpired was the
adoption of a new orthodoxy: that same-sex relation-
ships are, in every way, the equivalent of traditional
marriage, and that same-sex marriage must therefore
be treated identically to traditional marriage in law
and public life.
A corollary is that anyone who rejects the new
orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and
animus toward gays and lesbians.
Michael Harris, the Canadian author of a new young
adult novel called Homo (Lorimer, 2012), writes in The
Walrus along exactly the same lines. He begins by making the basic mistake of confusing legalizing same-sex
marriage by the Federal Government with “the country”
actually “endorsing” gay marriage. We must ask: Would
he equate every piece of legislation enacted since then by
the Federal Government to be something “the country”
has “endorsed”? I dare say he would not.
Harris refers to the James Chamberlain court case in
Surrey, B.C., in which a kindergarten teacher felt strongly
children ought to be reading Dr. Seuss-like books por-
traying same-sex relationships as perfectly normal. Harris
explains the rationale: “Given that the country endorsed
gay relationships, [same-sex relationships] would have to
be discussed in a positive manner in schools – even in
Harris concludes, in language that would be startling
to any historian, political scientist or jurist, that human
rights include “the right to be celebrated.”
This is not just a position with which I disagree. This
is thinking that is so bad, it doesn't even have the right
issue in focus.
Lying is legal – in all but certain situations such as
contracts and slander. So are we to introduce books into
the public school curriculum endorsing dishonesty as just
another lifestyle choice? Perhaps Black Lies, White Lies,
Everybody Lies and Lies?
Or let’s pick three quick examples from the beginning
of the alphabet. Adultery is legal, but poll after poll show
that decades of legality have not made most Canadians
condone it, much less endorse it. Alcoholism is legal, but
it’s hardly a commendable life choice. Abortion is legal,
but no one seriously suggests “the country” has “endorsed”
the idea of aborting a baby for just any reason at any moment in a pregnancy. Even those in favour of easy abortion
hesitate to agree that a mother, finding her labour too painful and wishing to end it by any means possible, should be
permitted to ask for and receive an abortion.
Forgive my bluntness, but it’s plainly stupid to say that
what law tolerates an entire country endorses, much less
to believe what one particular government has managed
to enact in this or that piece of legislation reflects a broad
So why would evidently intelligent people say such
Because something else is going on. Revenge? Maybe.
Preventing opponents from mounting a counterattack?
Likely. Self-righteousness? Evidently.
We have to keep pointing out both this fundamental
mistake of calling good what is only legal, and also this
hypocrisy of calling only some things good just because
they’re legal. This willful confusion is just the latest move
in the long game of cultural authority, the struggle over
whose values will dominate Canadian life.
Any parent, teacher or boss – pretty much any adult –
knows that sometimes you can allow what you do not affirm.
It’s time to push back, firmly and constantly, against this
adolescent insistence that everyone approve of me and my
choices. What is now legal behaviour should be clear to all
Canadians. But as we tolerate such behaviour, as we avoid
and prevent unfair discrimination against those who engage
in such behaviour, we in no way need to agree with it – and
we in turn are legally entitled to so disagree, freely and openly.
That’s what it means to be a grown-up, Dr. Seuss-ish
propaganda notwithstanding. FT
John Stackhouse teaches theology and culture at
Regent College in Vancouver. He is the author of