In the fourth Installment, Bishop Dowd replies to the Question often asked about why should a married heterosexual couple feel threatened by a gay couple that has nothing to do with them?
He explains how we need to look past individual couples and understand how in order to accommodate homosexual "marriages" the whole legal climate must be changed.
Dot #3: Parental rights and responsibilities
In one of the comments to my post regarding the importance of natural family bonds, Rob challenged the idea that these are being undermined in the new law. He wrote:
Father Tom, if a couple is legally married, how are they threatened by a gay couple that has nothing to do with them? What you are saying is that some government bureaucrat is going to stamp a paper so that an anxious gay couple can go and snatch Eric's child or someone like him?
My immediate reponse to him was: I never said they were threatened by *this* gay couple or *that* gay couple. What I am saying is that in order to accomodate gay couples in general a new legal climate is necessary, the price of which is the necessary weakening of the social and legal support for natural family bonds. The proof of this is in Bill C-38 itself, as well as in the recent voice vote in the Ontario legislature which accomplished this already on a provincial level.
Rob then wrote in reply: Rather than engage in a long philosophical debate with you, I would prefer just to test your hypothesis. How specifically are the natural bonds being weakened for heterosexual families? Heterosexual families are much more populous and would stand a lot to lose. Could you please explain how and give an example where the traditional family would lose anything according to the law?
Be happy to, Rob. To begin this discussion, however, we must keep an important distinction in mind. The changes to the law do not, in fact, undermine the natural family bonds *themselves* — after all, you can't legislate the emotions of others. However, the law does recognize that certain right and responsibilities flow out of those natural family bonds — the right of custody, which Rob mentions, being only one of them. These changes to the law, however, by declaring exclusively opposite-sex marriage to be discriminatory, in effect state that the natural family bonds should not have any special part in the way our society is structured. These special rights and responsibilities flowing out of the natural family bonds therefore become merely a concession of the State, a situation that eventually rebounds to affect even adoptive parents. We must keep in mind that it is the rights and responsibilities that are really at stake.
There are three major areas that I can see where a weakening of the legal support for natural family bonds brings a weakening of the natural rights and responsibilities that flow from them: social support, education, and custody.
1. Social support
Observers of the Canadian political scene are slowly seeing an emerging debate on the issue of tax support for families, whether in tax breaks or in the special social services that families require. There is a gradually-increasing chorus of voices for a position that would like to see the abolition of such support. The argument goes like this: "I never asked for that family to have children, and yet a portion of my tax dollars is going to support them. If they wanted to have children, they should pay for them themselves. Why should my taxes be higher through the imposition of their family needs on me?"
There are two possible responses to this issue. One is the economic argument. The other is the argument from the natural rights and responsibilities that arise from natural family bonds.
The natural family bonds argument essentially goes as follows: No one, and certainly not the government, has the right to tell individuals how many children they are allowed to have, or when in their lives they will have them. In essence, if natural family bonds really are special and deserving support in themselves, then this support starts with the families themselves being allowed when they are going to create new ones! It is the first of the fundamental rights of any family. And if this is our approach, then the function of social policy is to maximize the freedom for people to decide how many children they will have, and with what spacing, depending on their own particular material and emotional resources.
The economic argument is a more functionalist approach. It takes the approach that these children are the future of our society, and that society would naturally want to encourage those who are taking it upon themselves to continue its population. Among other reasons, this way there will always be a next well-educated generation ready to take on the challenge of looking after the current generation in its old age. The economic argument is weaker, however, because it is an economic response to what is posed as an issue of freedom: "I never asked for them to have kids, so no part of the burden of them should be imposed on me." It is the duty of social solidarity confronted by the principle of absolute personal determination.
Now if Bill C-38 goes through, thereby enshrining the logic that natural family bonds have no real place in the law of the land because they are secondary and therefore a source of discrimination, we are then left with only the latter of these two arguments. Rather than a society whose default setting is an offer of support up-front, that support needs to be negotiated. Perhaps those opposing paying for social support might accept that a family could have support for up to 2 children, for example. But is this just? Do you want the State deciding on your reproductive rights?
The argument will become even more insidious when a family finds itself confronted with the pre-natal diagnosis of some serious physical or mental handicap. Already families often find themselves strongly encouraged to abort these "mistakes" and just try again. The next step will be a shift in public policy which will slowly remove public support for parents who choose to keep the baby. Today's parents of handicapped children have already noted the slowly eroding level of support for them from the society around them. And because their children actually require more resources out of the system than they will likely contribute, the economic argument offers no support for such families. The handicap will not even need to be that severe. Because the State will tend to offer support for only smaller families (at best), the stakes are higher that all those children be "perfect". Already the medical system is seeing a marked increase in elective abortions for minor birth defects like clubfoot and cleft palate, things which are not life threatening and which are easily correctible.
So what is a human being? And from whence comes his worth? Part of the vision of natural family bonds is the understanding that starting a family is a "beautiful risk", the risk of having to accept the children who come because you can't send them back. Behind this risk, however, is the vision of a reward: the idea that even the "burden" of caring causes us to grow in our own human maturity. Real maturity, the maturity that society is based on, is rooted in the turning away from being self-absorbed to being other-centred. The weakest members of our society, by placing demands of care upon us, do in fact contribute something — except that these benefits are not economically quantifiable. The economic vision fails, therefore, in this regard. We need to preserve the social worth of natural family bonds, if only to preserve a generous vision of the dignity of the human being.
Curiously, those who promote same-sex marriage do so on the basis of advancing freedom. That freedom comes with a price, however. The logic of same-sex marriage, particularly when it is rooted in the concept of unjust discrimination, unbalances the rights of parents to found their families as they see fit, a right best rooted in the natural family bonds. I believe in freedom, but I don't see why we need to accept Bill C-38 which promotes one kind of freedom at the expense of another. And this affects even situations where the family bonds have a degree of artificiality, i.e. even adoptive couples, lesbian couples with kids through artificial insemination, and gay couples with children from previous relationships, because their rights are patterned on the rights of the natural family bonds in the first place. ALL CHILD-REARING FAMILIES SHOULD OPPOSE THIS BILL, as it ultimately creates the legal conditions for an interference in your freedom and a reduction in the social support to which you should be entitled.
Good parents not only nuture the physical development of their children, they also care for their mental, intellectual, and social development. The natural bonds of parenthood, therefore, are the basis for more than the right to procreate: they also serve as the basis for the right and responsibility of parents to decide on (and provide) the education of their children. If civilization were to collapse tomorrow, and all the elements of the modern school system were wiped out, the natural obligation of parents to raise their kids as best they can would still exist. This responsibility is rooted in the natural family bonds whose origins predate civilization itself.
Parents, however, often don't feel they can undertake this task on their own. This may be because our society has become enormously complex, such that it is very difficult to know enough about the variety of subjects now taught. On the other hand, perhaps the parents know the subjects but also realise that they have no sense of pedagogy. Most often, though, the parents may simply not have the material resources: time spent teaching is time not spent earning a living, and the simple need to put bread on the table could easily trump the personal accomplishment of this responsibility to educate. Indeed, for most of human society throughout most of human history, this latter point has been exactly the case.
To deal with these situations, parents then choose to exercise their natural rights by forming schools, then school boards, and finally entire school systems. Society, of course, has a stake in the success of these systems, and all of society benefits when the population is better educated. Governments therefore put in place taxation systems which effectively transfer resources from wealthier persons to poorer persons, to ensure that access to education is universal. The creation of school systems, however, as well as the funding of them from the public purse, necessarily launches a new debate: Who is ultimately in charge? If you believe in the existence of natural family bonds, it is ultimately the parents, who are simply being supported in the exercise of natural rights and responsibilities that are properly theirs. The temptation is always there, however, for those in power — government officials and/or professionals of education — to conclude that the natural rights of parents don't really count, and to take over those rights and responsibilities.
We don't always notice the subtle shift when this kidnapping of the natural rights and responsibilities occurs. After all, there is a general common agreement that certain subjects form part of a good basic education, such as reading and writing skills, basic mathematics and science, and certain cultural subjects such as history, geography, and music. Where things become sticky, however, is in the area of religious and moral education. In some ways this is the most basic form of education of all, because for persons with strong religious and/or moral beliefs there is more at stake than the ability to one day get a good job. Whether we may agree with their particular beliefs or not, such people often believe that what is really at stake is the very happiness itself of their children, both in this life and (often) in the next. These beliefs deserve our respect, because at their best they are a profound manifestation of the nurturing drive contained in the natural family bonds.
The current drive to implement same-sex marriage in Canada deals a double whammy to the natural rights and responsibilities of parents. Homosexual activity, because it *is* an activity, is as subject to moral analysis as any other. Many religions and philosophical systems find it wanting. Because there are many homosexual persons in society, the common good does rightfully include the social right to insist that our children be taught to treat others with a basic human respect. But as I have already pointed out, the push for same-sex marriage is not just about social tolerance, but social APPROVAL. The State, in effect, is becoming the judge of the private value systems of parents and families. In practice, children will be taught that homosexual conduct is morally good, and parents who think otherwise will have to expend their efforts to undo this teaching at home — a teaching that many believe may threaten their child's earthly and even heavenly happiness. That cannot be fair.
Parents do have options, of course. Some withdraw their children from school and teach them at home. Eventually they establish new schools, school boards, and new school systems, structured around their fundamental beliefs and values. In almost all cases, however, such systems find themselves disadvantaged. These parents pay the same taxes as anyone else, but their educational efforts receive nowhere near the same support (if any) as the official public system. In effect, you are only guaranteed to be allowed to transmit your values to your children if you can afford it. Natural parental rights and responsibilities are held for ransom, and those that can't pay the premium have little choice but to swallow the "official" moral belief system of the educational bureaucracy.
The extended legal implications behind Bill C-38 go far beyond even this, however. This bill is based on a philosophy that sidelines the natural family bonds as (at best) irrelevent or (at worst) part of the problem of "unjust" discrimination. In doing so, however, it transforms the right and responsibilities of parents into a mere concession of the State, and effectively reverses the very raison d'être of public education in the first place. It is no longer an attempt to respectfully help parents in accomplishing their responsibilities: the State begins to take over those responsibilities, increasingly acting in the place of the parent whether the parents like it or not.
In many ways we are here already. Groups of parents have already tried to establish school voucher systems so that they have access to public funds without needing to come under the imposed "values curriculum", but without much success. And the State interferes in family life in a most intimate way already, particularly in the sexual domain. Did you know, for example, that in Quebec a fourteen-year old girl can approach her school nurse and ask that nurse to arrange for her to have an abortion, or simply to go the clinic herself? And did you know that both the school and the abortion clinic are obliged to conceal this from her parents? Despite the fact that she is a minor, not yet allowed to vote or drive, the parents are by law kept out of this life-changing decision.
As bad as this is, with the legal philosophy of Bill C-38 it will only get worse. By denying the value of the natural family bonds and their accompanying rights and responsibilities, the courts have effectively denied parents any guarantee of independence and initiative in the raising of their children, both within the school system and without. It concentrates the power of deciding the overall moral direction of society in very few hands, and effectively eliminates legal basis for the "natural democracy" that exists among families today. The faceless control-freak bureaucrats I mentioned earlier may not seize actual physical custody, but they effectively seize moral custody of the children by removing that natural right of parents to guide their moral development.
In his original reply to my post on natural family bonds, Rob objected that my reasoning was absurd because it implied that children would be arbitrarily seized from their homes. As I have already shown, however, the natural family bonds are the basis for much more than just custody. In all honesty, though, custody actually *does* become one of the issues at stake. Gordon, in a reply to Rob, wrote:
I believe the point is found in the distinction between a right and a privilage. Natural familly bonds, as the law currently recognizes them, confer on parents certain rights that may be removed if the state deams their actions harmful to the child. If one removes the concept of natural family bonds from the legal definition, then effectively removes the existing criterion for this right. Legally the birth-parents would then have to prove their ability to care for the child before being granted the privelege of providing that care, much as adoptive parents must do so in the present day. This touches on the question: what is the states role/authority in bequeathing the right/privelege to provide care to children?
To this Rob replied:
I do not believe that the government would have this in mind as it would be an incredible task to follow up on. Such an undertaking would require an Orwellian type government of totalitarian proportions to properly enforce such an idea. I do not believe it would be long before there would be a massive lobby to react to such a change in governing styles.
There have, in fact, been totalitarian governments in the course of history which sought to eliminate the natural family unit and replace it with something determined by government fiat. Hitler experimented with it, and I believe the original Bolsheviks of the Russian Revolution tried this as well. But the example I know of best, sadly, originated within my own democratic nation. Without intending it I am sure, Rob's casual confidence in the formation of a "massive lobby" ignores and insults the tragic history of the attempts by the Canadian government (with the complicity of some of the Christian denominations and religious orders) to destroy the culture of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
These dark times are a blot on Canadian history. Aboriginal children were regularly separated from their families and sent away to residential schools, where the "Indian" in them was to be "removed" — certainly a form of cultural abuse, and accompanied sometimes with physical and sexual abuse as well. And yes, sometimes this abuse of parental custodial rights went as far as terminating those rights. When a child needs to be adopted, for example, the original parents still have certain rights, such as the right to determine certain of the criteria of the adopting family. Aboriginal children, however, were regularly shipped off to be adopted by white families, in direct violation of the wishes of the original parents that they remain in aboriginal communities. I am sure that the vast majority of these white parents were as excellent as any other, but it still remains that they, perhaps without even knowing it, were part of a greater (and sinister) scheme to forcibly assimilate the "backwards Indians" by denying them their children.
There were even Roman Catholic religious orders involved in this system. Although I was ordained long after all this happened I *am* a Catholic priest, and so I feel a special responsibility to keep the memory of this alive — so that it never happens again. And when I see Bill C-38, I shudder, because the legal philosophy upon which it is based removes the recognition of the law for the natural family bonds that serve as the basis of custody itself. It CAN happen in a democracy, Rob. It *has*. And today's religious groups, of all kinds of backgrounds, are starting to feel like they, in fact, are the marginalised ones whose rights will be next to be trampled upon. This coalition against same-sex marriage includes very strange bedfellows: Catholics with Evangelicals, Muslims with Jews and Hindus.....has it occured to us that maybe this IS the "massive lobby" in the process of being formed? And if it is, let's make sure our nation doesn't wind up on the wrong side of history again.
But as possible as it is for government, even in a democracy, to unjustly interfere in issues of custody, it isn't even this that worries me the most. What scares me the most is the possibility that the neglect of custody will become part of our culture itself — something not just ignored by a few in seats of government, but by thousands and possibly millions of our fellow citizens. You see, custody is not only composed of parental rights, but also parental responsibilities. If the law ignores the existence of natural family bonds, the bonds upon which the concept of custody rests, then there is no basis for legally requiring those responsibilities of parents either. What basis would there be, for example, for refusing the logic of a man who discovers his girlfriend is pregnant: "I said I didn't want to be a father long before we got involved, and she seemed ok with that. I offered to pay for the abortion, but she says she wants to keep it. Fine, but that is HER choice. I have no intention to pay any kind of child support, and I don't see why I should." How can we answer this man? Of course, we could say that he is responsible for the outcome of his actions, but that is an appeal to an outcome of nature, one which he feels he has overridden by his will and his choice. Eliminating natural family bonds from the equation not only threatens custody when we want custody, it also (in the name of license masquarading as freedom) makes it impossible to impose minimal custodial responsibilities upon people, forgetting that the decision to procreate or not rests with a couple, not with the individual. The end result? We create a true imbalance between the sexes, transferring undue power to males over females, and thereby create a recipe for single-mother poverty on an increasing scale. This is enlightened social policy? Of course, one could argue that we should then create a special legal context in which consent to procreation can be assumed, rather than having to be proved, except we already have this: it's called MARRIAGE, with all its natural family bonds intact.
CONCLUSION #1: All child-rearing families should oppose Bill C-38 and its accompanying legal logic, because it creates the legal conditions for an interference in reproductive freedom and a reduction in the social support. Parents of handicapped children should be especially concerned.
CONCLUSION #2: All parents concerned for the education and socialization of their children should oppose Bill C-38, because the legal philosopgy in contains reverses the parent-State relationship in matters related to child-rearing in general, and education in particular.
CONCLUSION #3: Bill C-38 attacks the natural basis upon which legal custody rests, and should therefore be opposed by all minority groups who fear cultural oppression and assimilation. In particular, Bill C-38 should be opposed by Aboriginal groups whose history demonstrates how that process of assimilation can go so far as to attack custodial rights, even in a democratic nation. Never again!
CONCLUSION #4: The elimination of natural family bonds from Canadian law removes the legitimate possibility of imposing child support obligations for a great many cases. Bill C-38 should be opposed, in particular by womens' rights groups, because the long-term effect of its legal philosophy will be an imbalance of social power in the hands of men, and will create a rise in poverty among women as they seek to care for their children in single-parent households.