Social conservatives move on to next marriage debate
By Jennifer Ditchburn,


September 27, 2007 

OTTAWA - Nearly a year after Parliament shelved the same-sex marriage debate, Canada's socially conservative thinkers are shifting gears and pushing government to promote and support the traditional family unit.

There was nary a mention of same-sex marriage at a policy conference Thursday of the Institute for Marriage and Family Canada.

Instead, speakers that included economists and writers emphasized the benefits of marriage to the social fabric and the economy.

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper announcing a $13.5-billion surplus would ultimately translate into tax reductions, the notion of income-splitting was a popular topic.

Right now married Canadians are taxed as individuals, but allowing them to split the total family income would be especially advantageous in situations where one spouse stays at home.

"If we have high taxation, people also appear to have fewer children," said David Quist, executive director of the institute.

"The two go hand in glove and that's a large part of what today is, to talk about strong family and strong society.

If we have a weak family, we will in turn have a weak society as well."

Said Douglas Cryer of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada: "There's things to consider, such as income splitting and other measures the government can do to strengthen marriage.

Ultimately, it's a cultural as well as a government issue.

We can't ask government to solve the problem of marriage.

All of us need to work on it together."

Most alarming to many participants was a Statistics Canada study released earlier this month that suggested fewer Canadians are getting married and more are in common-law relationships.

Still, a married couple remained at the centre of 70 per cent of families.

American economist Jennifer Roback Morse, a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, said her own research has shown that marriage is a much healthier proposition than co-habitation.

She said women and their children who lived with boyfriends were more likely to face violence.

She too suggested legislators should be encouraging marriage through their policies and regulations.

"They should be looking at not treating cohabitation as equivalent to marriage," said Roback Morse.

"Living together for one year is not equivalent to marriage, and it's not good policy to say it is.

Taxing people as individuals is a mistake, it's better to treat marriage as a real functioning unit."

All speakers emphasized the welfare of children as central to supporting traditional marriages.

Fellow economist Doug Allen, of Simon Fraser University, suggested the government could help by revising its position on child support.

He argued the guidelines for payments result in some custodial parents - mostly women - getting too much money.

He said the system acted as an incentive to divorce for some.

"For me the main goal is to have a greater proportion of children living with two married parents," said Allen.

But is the Conservative government listening?

Income splitting is still being actively discussed in Harper's circles, and modest steps were taken in the last budget to remove any unequal treatment between singles and married couples.

His government did away with the concept of a national child-care program, but introduced a $100 per month taxable payment for every child a family has under the age of 6.

Jason Kenney, one of the party's leading social conservatives and secretary of state for multiculturalism, attended most of Thursday's conference.

Quist is optimistic the message is getting through.

"The family advocates are having the best hearing that they've had with this government for many, many years...," Quist said.

"I find that encouraging.

There are people who are willing to listen to some of the discussions that are going on today or similar discussions in the public sphere."