20 June 2006

The Unethical Ethicist

There has been much sturm und drang over the decision of Ryerson University to award an honorary doctorate to McGill professor and so-called ethicist, Margaret Somerville. The controversy arises from her views on, or to be more precise, against, same-sex marriage. According to the Star,
Somerville, who insists her views are not religious or political in nature, believes same-sex marriage is wrong because marriage is fundamentally about creating children and they deserve — and need — both a biological mother and father.

Acknowledging she has many critics, Somerville said it's important academia operate in "a discourse of mutual respect" about unpopular views rather than succumb to the "chill of political correctness."
I agree that the academy must be a place in which civil discourse can fully examine disparate opinions and unpopular views. So as far as I am concerned, Prof. Somerville is more than welcome to lecture at McGill, or return to Ryerson for a public debate on this controversial and divisive subject. On the other hand, an honorary doctorate confers a recognition tantamount to an endorsement of the honoree's work. Thus, it was entirely inappropriate for Ryerson - a university located in downtown Toronto, a mere stone's throw from the heart of gay culture in this city - to award the honor. What were they thinking? Well, according to some post-hoc statements made by Sheldon Levy, the president of Ryerson, the committee was not aware of her stance with respect to same-sex marriage. This, of course, does not explain why they didn't back down when the news broke.

Somerville's reason for opposing same-sex marriage raises some questions that I think belie her supposed ethical position. While I can appreciate the opinions of those who are opposed on religious grounds, Somerville claims that the purpose of marriage is to produce children, and children need both biological parents; hence same-sex marriage is unethical. Based on this position, one must conclude that she equally opposes adoption, and marriage between people who are not capable of (or not interested in) procreation. So, for all those who are enjoying a second or third marriage later in life, for all those who are medically incapable of having children, for all those who have enjoyed the love of adoptive parents, you're all in the same boat with gays and lesbians who want to create a stable, family unit, according to Prof. Somerville, and she is against you. Sad, really. And unethical on its face.

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