Saturday, February 27, 2010


This will be the last post on the topic of gay marriage on this blog for a long while, but I've received a couple of emails arguing that I claimed victory over Alan on a technicality and not a substantive position.

Generally speaking, if one argues that A does not lead to B (i.e. there isn't a slippery slope) repeatedly, but then shifts to "what's wrong with B anyway?" they've lost the slippery slope argument. If A does not lead to B, then you don't need to discuss B. Once you ask what's wrong with B, then it's not just what's wrong with B that is at stake, but also what might be wrong with C, D, E, and F, plus all the combinations thereof.

To illustrate this point with respect to gay marriage particularly I will make what I view as the strongest case against gay marriage. Even though, as I have mentioned over and over, I am in favor of allowing gay marriage. I do this because unlike too many people, who just feel their positions and then cherry pick facts and reasoning to support it, I endeavor, even if I am not always successful, to be intellectually honest and rigorous and consider all sides. So, let's start from the beginning.

Marriage has throughout Western history been a covenant (a pledge of mind, body and soul) between a man and a woman for the implicit and often explicit purpose of providing a stable and nurturing environment for producing and raising children. Since the creation and rearing of the next generation is so crucially important to the continuing survival of society it has bestowed those who commit to the institution of marriage various privileges.

I'd like to anticipate some objections to the above paragraph.
* Today, people enter into marriage for reasons other than children (taxes, love, etc). Therefore, we ought not limit it to sexual couples that can produce children.

That is a true enough point. However, under the above logic they are in some sense abusing the system in an effort to reap the privileges of marriage without undertaking the reason for them. That some heterosexual couples can take advantage of the system doesn't mean we should open it up to additional couples to take advantage of the system.

* Even historically, people entered in to marriage for purposes other than children, such as consolidating power between kingdoms.

Yes, again, people entered into it for other reasons, but there was even in those cases strong pressure to create heirs.

* Marriage may be a covenant, but as far as the state is concerned it is a contract. Therefore, we should make the contract part of it open to gay couples as well.

A good point. But again if it is simply a contract, like any other, than there is no reason to simply limit it to a couple. Three or more people can enter into a contract as well.

* Under your logic, then we ought not allow sterile heterosexual couples either.

This point I think is a very good one. However, there is a huge difference between not allowing sterile or post-menopausal couples to marry and gay marriage. When two gay people get married it is biologically a priori knowledge that it impossible for them to conceive. With a heterosexual couple you would have to invade their medical privacy. Even a 90 year-old lady, who almost certainly post-menopausal, the state would need to medically examine her to be 100% sure. Not so with a homosexual couple. We all know right off the bat without any invasion of privacy.

Now, getting back to the slippery slope point. Let's restate the definition of marriage from above:
a covenant (a pledge of mind, body and soul) between a man and a woman for the implicit and often explicit purpose of providing a stable and nurturing environment for producing and raising children.

If we allow gay marriage, then we need to change the man and a woman language to two people. However, once we've done that we need to get rid of the "purpose of providing a stable and nurturing environment for producing and raising children." If it's no longer about raising children, then there is no reason whatsoever not to allow incestuous couples.

So, we now are at a point where we have a covenant between heterosexual couples or gay couples (even incestuous ones). Now, the covenant part makes it more difficult to allow polygamy. How do you pledge your mind, body, and soul to two people? How do you hold two people above ALL others? It just doesn't make sense. And I think this is what Alan was trying to get at with his difference between a couple and polygamy being fundamentally different.

But there is a deeper problem. For us to go from man and woman to any two people being allowed, well, we need a valid rationale. A reason, as it were, that dictates we need to make this change. I've yet to see a reason that necessitates that we go from man and woman to any couple that doesn't undermine the covenant aspect of marriage.

If you use my logic that the state shouldn't be involved the in the affairs of consenting adults, then you've transitioned into the realm of contract, not covenant, and so the logic doesn't prevent polygamy.

If you say that discriminating against gays in this case is wrong because marriage is a contract like any other, then you've again shifted it from covenant to contract and underscored the slippery slope argument.

Lastly, getting back to Alan's question about what is wrong with polygamy and why I claimed victory...he asked the wrong question. If gay marriage doesn't lead to polygamy, then we can just focus on the consequences of gay marriage. If you ask what's wrong with polygamy, then you admit that gay marriage leads to polygamy in asking the question. If gay marriage leads to polygamy, then what else does it lead to? If it leads to more things, then focusing on each marginal change in isolation overlooks interactions.

So, in the worst case scenario, using the logic I've laid out above, allowing gay marriage opens the door to polygamous, homosexual, incestuous marriages. Frankly, I have no fucking clue what that type thing would do to the society and I don't think anybody does. Perhaps it's unlikely to happen because people find it icky. But do we want icky feeling to be the only guide to what happens in society? I think not.

And all that frankly is why I'm uncomfortable, although oddly steadfast, with my own stance that gay marriage ought to be legal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll vote for 'icky'. I tend to think we should allow unions which most people think are okay, and that the democratic election of representatives who make that decision is the best way to figure that out. Useta be 'over twelve with parents' consent' was a threshold, now Maryland saw some marriages like that and the ick factor took over - even though Jerry Lee Lewis and Will and Ariel Durant seem like counter-examples. I'm also not anxious for my taxes to go to buy Cross & Shield for five claimed spouses of a DMV clerk and their kids, so I can see a financial reason to limit it to partnerships of two. dave.s.

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