Commentary  Comment: Terrified without reason

Why the Birks building shouldn’t promote half-baked academia

Someone administer the last rites: McGill religious studies professor Douglas Farrow is about to have a heart attack. I know this because Farrow is the author of A Nation of Bastards, a thin volume displayed in the Birks building this fall that decries same-sex marriage as a symbol of Canada’s moral decline and the end of a heterosexual institution. The book, along with Divorcing Marriage, Farrow’s collaboration with fellow professor Daniel Cere, presents same-sex marriage as a covert means for gay rights activists to overthrow marriage and enjoy “state sponsored fornication.” If Canadians tolerate same sex marriage, the results will be positively apocalyptic: children without parents, the dissolution of families, and wedding cakes adorned with plastic same-sex couples.

Among religious conservatives, Farrow’s concerns are nothing new. The reasoning often goes like this: heterosexual marriage involves the two roles of husband and wife. Each of these roles entails cultural mores and duties. But if we include homosexual couples in the institution of marriage, these two roles are replaced by the single role of spouse. Gay marriage, you see, spells the end of gender roles, which some conservatives would argue are valuable, even sacred. I would like to think that Farrow’s palpitations are the result of similar reasoning, and not ignorance or hate.

But he makes this tough to believe. Farrow sounds more surly than scholarly. He explains that gay rights activists are intent on “sanitizing” homosexuality, implying that homosexuality is, well, dirty. Farrow doesn’t explain, however, just what kind of dirt these activists are intending to wash away. In painting an adequately chilling portrait of the modern homosexual, Farrow points to a two-decades-old book that refers to “the vicious heterosexual enemy.” Of course, this rests on the assumption that only one homosexual identity exists, one adequately summed up in an obscure four-word quotation. Generalizations like this don’t make for a very compelling – or fair – argument. After all, few would appreciate the image of the modern heterosexual being reduced to, say, the folks at Penthouse.

But let’s not sell Bastards short just yet. Farrow’s concerns are legitimate: he worries that people no longer examine politics critically, having been coaxed into believing that the redefinition of marriage will not affect them. Very well then, Professor: bring on the statistics and nuance. Unfortunately, these are nowhere to be found, in Bastards or Divorcing. Instead, Farrow and Cere claim that the majority of Canadians oppose the redefinition of marriage. They do not offer a source for this statement, and ignore the polls that suggest the opposite. For good measure, Farrow quotes The Book of Genesis, Frank Sinatra, and obscure gay rights activists from the eighties. Bastards provides ample room to everyone but a credible sociologist, psychologist, or political scientist.

If the end of marriage is imminent, we should provide a statistic or two to fill in the gaps in Bastards and Divorcing. Yale professor William Eskridge and New York attorney Darren R. Spedale looked to Denmark, which has recognized gay and lesbian partnerships since 1989. At the time of the legislation, they explain, few people were getting married, lots of people were getting divorced, and a large number of children were born out of wedlock. Taking Farrow at his word, we would expect to see these trends pick up after 1989. They didn’t. The divorce rate decreased, the marriage rate rose, and the out-of-marriage birthrate fell for the first time in 50 years. And while same-sex marriage is in its infancy in Canada, the marriage rates on this side of the Atlantic have held steady since the unions were made legal.

In lieu of statistics, Farrow cites scripture: Jesus was raised by heterosexual parents, and he turned out alright. The New Testament also suggests that Jesus, a bachelor his entire life, was indifferent to traditional notions of family: he considered anyone who pleased God to be his brother or sister. And the Apostle Paul – the Karl Rove to Jesus’ George W. Bush – used his letter to the Corinthian church to endorse marriage mainly for those who could not remain celibate. In other words, it’s not perfect, but it’s preferable to impure thoughts and cold showers.

Since Bastards devotes little room to either statistics or scriptural interpretation, I’m curious what makes it worthy of display in our religious studies building. I’ve been told that the building’s receptionists feature the books with the most appealing cover images. But given the diversity of students who attend classes in the Birks building, perhaps some tact is in order when choosing whether to display a work that refers to gay partnerships as hedonistic fornication.

Most of all, it seems nearly impossible to give Farrow the benefit of the doubt I initially thought he deserved. Bastards provides no reason to fear same-sex marriage. So perhaps we should celebrate it. Common sense suggests as much. So do statistics. And Farrow has yet to prove otherwise.

Stephen Davis is a U3 Religious Studies student, The Daily’s photo editor, and all-round stand up guy. Tell him all your thoughts on God at, and feel free to call him Spencer!