An Interactive Web Guide To Understanding
And Presenting The Case For Same-Sex Marriage
A sarcastic response. Why stop at polygamy? Lets keep going and going…
A) Slipping To Absurdity
By taking this argument to its absurd albeit “logical” conclusion, one can see how silly it truly is. Look closely at the claim being made, that any alteration in “traditional” or “natural” restrictions on marriage will lead to the deterioration of all other marital restrictions. But if this were true, why stop at incestuous or polygamous marriages? If we are truly worried about these marital variations, why not necrophilic ones as well?15 What about bestiality, or even marrying an inanimate object if an individual claims to be in love with one and there are truly no restrictions on the form or function of marriage?
The very notion is manifestly ridiculous. Gay marriage is a legal and moral issue distinct from these others, and it as best disingenuous to argue that its legalization will force the government to recognize the sanctity of a human bond with an animal or a dead person. And will the state have to sanction polygamous, incestuous or child marriages. To intimate otherwise, Andrew Sullivan wisely points out, “is not an argument, it’s a panic.”16
Slipper slope arguments work both ways. Click here to explore a push in the opposite direction.
B) Slipping The Other Way
It would be wise also to keep in mind that slopes can slip in more than one direction, and can be used to support, rather than undermine, the case for same-sex marriage. For instance, if the state is permitted to cite “traditional restrictions” and ban gays and lesbians from marrying, what would prevent it from also banning other categories of people “traditionally” denied the right to marry? Not so long ago, people with mental disabilities and sexually transmitted diseases were “historically” denied access to the marital institution. If gay men and women are not permitted to marry on grounds of tradition, what could stop the state from denying these other groups the right to marry on grounds of tradition as well?
Going one step further, anti-miscegenation laws, on the books of some states from as early as 1691, are as “traditional” as any law in this country. Also part of our country’s tradition is a legal conception of marriage whereby a woman is considered the “property” of her husband. If the state opts to ban gay marriages because it wants to define marriage traditionally, as a matter of intellectual consistency do we not risk the return of these other antiquated, albeit “traditional,” definitions of marriage as well?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, slippery slopes don’t usually have much logical sway. Usually, they can be outright dismissed on their face.
C) Slippery Slopes in General
Within Harvard University’s Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society, students are taught “The Five Deadly Opps,” five arguments which can be used in virtually any situation to oppose virtually any proposal for change. They are:
The problem with all of these “opps” is that, while useful for purposes of debate, in their extreme form they are intellectually dishonest and imply that no social reforms should ever be undertaken. The simple truth is that gay marriage will not lead to incestuous marriage. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands, and most recently Massachusetts have all legalized same-sex unions without legalizing polygamous or incestuous ones.
As I shall explore in the next section, marriage has evolved numerous times over the centuries. Women are increasingly seen as equal “partners” in a marital relationship. Persons of different religions and races are now permitted to wed. Mentally handicapped people and people with sexually transmitted diseases are also now extended that right. Indeed, the only consistent, traditional aspect of marriage is that it has constantly changed to reflect society’s understanding of the equality of individuals, and today we are coming to recognize that the choice of a marriage partner should belong to the individual, not the state.
In sum, if one believes in this line of argument, when talking with them you might not even need to address the issue of polygamy. Ppolygamous marriages should perhaps be legalized, and perhaps they should not. That is an issue which our legislators may or may not take up, and is an issue different than, and should be treated as distinct from, gay marriage. Marriage has evolved for the better many times over the years, and will likely evolve even further in years to come – each change, however, has been and must continue to be judiciously analyzed
and judged on its own merits. It is disingenuous, and callous, to treat any potential change as part of some seamless process of an alleged disintegration of an institution.17
The conservative view. Attacking polygamy and incest to promote gay marital monogamy.
D) Concept of Choice
Finally, in addition to the aforementioned reasons, a distinction between gay marriages and polygamous and incestuous marriages can be made based on the concept of “choice.” Andrew Sullivan makes the case this way: