Tom Gilson

Down the “Marriage” Slippery Slope

Predictably enough, the “marriage” slippery slope is showing up for what it is. From John Stonestreet’s BreakPoint commentary:

As Dr. George pointed out in “First Things,” when Christians pointed out the logical link between same-sex marriage and polygamy, proponents of same-sex marriage rejected the connection. They insisted that “no one is arguing for the legal recognition of polygamous or polyamorous relationships as marriages!”

George writes in response, “That was then; this is now.” The “then” he referred to was last week; the now is today.

George predicts that Keenan’s article “will not produce a single serious critique by a major scholar or activist from the same-sex marriage movement.”

Now he would love to be wrong. But defenders of traditional marriage know that the enclosures that kept marriage a “monogamous and exclusive union” are being dismantled. And no one should be surprised by what emerges, least of all those doing the dismantling.

 

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35 thoughts on “Down the “Marriage” Slippery Slope

  1. I know what the state’s interest is, even if I dispute it. I know what the traditional definition is. If you want to claim that marriage has some sort of other, tangible existence; then yes, I confess I’m not aware of its existence as anything other than an evolving concept and institution. But, again, merely asking a question establishes nothing along logical lines. Would you not consider OT polygamous arrangements not “marriages”?

  2. And of course “asking a question establishes nothing along logical lines.” But the existence or asking of a question can illustrate/demonstrate, yea, even establish the presence of confusion.

  3. If you want to claim that confusion about what marriage “really” is what creates the slippery slope, then fine, fair enough. All I can tell you is that merely asserting what one believes about marriage is hardly the same as establishing its reality and immutability.

    If you (like the author of the Breakpoint piece seems to) want to claim that legalizing SSM creates the slippery slope to polygamy, then I would say that all depends on the rationale behind each, and that – again – merely asking what the legal objection would be does not establish the connection.

  4. All of this does just seem to be an end-around the question , though. It was an honest question. If the only objection is “that’s not what marriage is”, then the obvious follow up is “why not”? If you’re only come back is that it’s not a good idea, then obviously we want to know why. And, of course, I’d hope you realize that it opens the door for other good ideas. Like SSM, or whatever else. In other words, acknowledging some sort of pragmatic quality to marriage seems to me self-defeating on your part. But I admit I haven’t seen you lay out your whole case yet, so I remain patient for it.

  5. All I can tell you is that merely asserting what one believes about marriage is hardly the same as establishing its reality and immutability.

    If marriage is not a reality then what on earth are YOU arguing about – fiction? And regarding immutability, the traditional form of marriage still exists in that same form today, right? Stop playing games, JB.

  6. SteveK, marriage is not a fiction, but what people assert about it can be. That was my point. Merely asserting that marriage is between one and man and one woman does not make it so. Saying that it would be “best” if it were so, does not make it true. These are assertions that require justification. Obviously, the former assertion has not always been the case. As for immutability, the “traditional” form of marriage would be culturally-dependent, would it not? Which *tradition* are you referring to? Monogamy? No. Love? No. Commitment? No. Procreation? No. Heterosexuality? Yes.

    That something has been, however, does not mean that *must be*. If you want to argue that it *must be* or *should be*, one does not make that argument from observing that it has always been so. That marriage has historically been comprised of heterosexual union(s) is a fact about marriage. That it is an *essential component* of marriage is an assertion requiring justification. I don’t see how pointing any of this out is playing games.

  7. JB,

    SteveK, marriage is not a fiction, but what people assert about it can be. That was my point. Merely asserting that marriage is between one and man and one woman does not make it so.

    Thank you for saying that marriage is a particular REAL thing and that people can be wrong about that particular real thing because it is an objective real thing. That’s how I am reading your comment, anyway.

    That something has been, however, does not mean that *must be*.

    This is where you go astray. This particular objective reality that people can be wrong about still exists today because it is a NATURAL reality (man/woman producing the next generation with a purpose) that wasn’t created by humans or anyone else. It’s a natural outpouring of who we are as humans. That’s what marriage is in it’s most basic form. No doubt there are a lot of iterations and perversions of that basic natural form, but the natural basic form remains.

    You incorrectly think that humans can alter the natural pairing of man/woman simply by changing the definition. It doesn’t work that way. All you are doing is introducing a new definition of marriage into the culture to serve the purpose of that culture. The natural thing still exists, and will never change as long as it remains natural. That’s what I was alluding to with my comment about immutability.

    Take as an example, water. It is a naturally occurring reality. There are many forms of water and we give those many forms a modified definition of sorts: polluted, heavy, ionized, distilled, salty, etc. They are all water.

    One day we could change the definition of water to include crude oil. That change in the definition does not affect what water IS. For cultural purposes, the term water now also includes crude oil, but is crude oil REALLY water? No.

  8. “One day we could change the definition of water to include crude oil. That change in the definition does not affect what water IS. For cultural purposes, the term water now also includes crude oil, but is crude oil REALLY water? No.”

    An apt characterization of the marriage debate, I say.

  9. It seems a terrible comparison to me. I would liken it more to the concept of “drinking water”. Back in the day, drinking from a contaminated source of water like a stagnant pond might have been acceptable, but Tom wants to warn us that this is not a good idea. Fair enough. But now, thousands of years later, let’s say I want to introduce a source of drinking water formulated through some chemical process. “It’s never been done that way!” people will object. We’ve always gotten our “drinking water” from Mother Nature! It’s “unnatural”! Etc.

  10. Nice of you to take what I said and complain that it didn’t make some point that I never intended it to make.

  11. SteveK, I’m more than willing to admit that marriage is a “real thing”, in the same way that I’m willing to admit that the distinction between civilians and sworn officers is “real”. It exists, but it’s still a convention. My guess is we’d disagree over just how many propositions can actually be known about marriage. For instance, that people get married is a fact. That there have been, and still are, numerous different concepts/definitions of marriage is a fact. That marriage can only be between one man and one woman is an unjustified assertion. Likewise, pretty much everything you wrote in the paragraph begun by “this is where you go astray” is nothing more than empty assertions. It also seems disengenuous. Do you REALLY believe marriage was not created by *anyone*? Because the whole essence of the “human nature” argument certainly seems teleological to me. Not to mention its simply question-begging (without further detail anyway) to claim that one way of doing things is “human nature”, but other ways that occur are “peversions”.

    I’m not looking to “alter the natural pairing of man/woman”. Why on earth would anyone think that? What I’m looking to alter is social equality of a marginalized group of people, and in this case, specifically by altering the legal recognition of other “natural pairing”s, and further legitimizing it by using the same term “marriage” to describe it. I do this, of course, not deliberately thinking that I’m going to misuse the term “marriage”, but because I think the term is appropriate.

    Where you seem to err is in comparing “marriage” with “water”. One is a lot more tangible than the other, and as such, there is a lot better argument to be made about the “natural reality” of water. If one is to argue that marriage is anything other than a social convention, then more is going to be needed than what has been provided thus far. The comparison of social conventions and water are obviously problematic.

  12. SteveK, unless I’m mistaken, you did in fact make the point that “its never been done that way,” and you certainly seem to be arguing along a “what’s natural” vein. Regardless, I think I was clear that “people” will make these kinds of objections, not that you specifically did. My intent was not to put words in your mouth, but merely to demonstrate why such popular objections are unfounded, when the issue is looked at differently. The question, of course, is what the best way to look at it is.

  13. JB,

    It exists, but it’s still a convention.

    It’s a human convention in the sense that there IS a connection between the naming convention and the natural thing it refers to. If that is what you mean then I have no problem with this.

    For instance, that people get married is a fact.

    Wait! You cannot know this fact unless you know what the universal concept of marriage is. However, you then go on and on about the fact that nobody really knows what marriage is. Which is it, JB? I’m getting dizzy.

    Do you REALLY believe marriage was not created by *anyone*?

    No doubt the term is a human creation. The thing it refers to is not. The term (‘human convention’ if you’d rather say it that way) refers to a naturally occurring relationship that humans picked up on as something uniquely valuable to human flourishing – more so than the other naturally occurring relationships that were around.

    Yes, society further shaped it, developed it, etc by mixing in various cultural elements along the way. There certainly is a cultural element to all marriages. It’s quite unavoidable.

    If one is to argue that marriage is anything other than a social convention, then more is going to be needed than what has been provided thus far. The comparison of social conventions and water are obviously problematic.

    You need to clarify what you mean by social convention. If you are suggesting that “male/female paring with the intention of producing / raising the next generation and helping a society to flourish” is a human fabrication somehow then you’ll need to explain what you mean by that. I thought this was basic Darwinism 101.

  14. JB,
    You lodged a complaint about me comparing a naturally occurring substance like water to marriage, so I will use another example. However this time I will use in my example things created by humans.

    Take as an example, motorcycles. They are a human created reality. There are many forms of motorcycles and we give those many forms a modified definition of sorts: off-road, sport, touring, racing, etc. They are all motorcycles.

    One day we could change the definition of motorcycle to include skateboard. That change in the definition does not affect what the 2-wheeled thing with the engine IS. For cultural purposes, the term motorcycle now also includes skateboards, but is a skateboard REALLY a motorcycle?

  15. It’s a human convention in the sense that there IS a connection between the naming convention and the natural thing it refers to. If that is what you mean then I have no problem with this.

    There is no universal concept of marriage. Picking the lowest common denominator (heterosexual union) amongst all of the different current and historical competing concepts does not make it the “universal concept”. It just means that there is one commonality.

    If you want to claim that heterosexual, monogomous unions that set out to raise the next generation have been “uniquely valuable to human flourishing”, then you need to specify in what sense they are “uniquely valuable”, what you mean by “flourishing”, and what this is evidenced by. Furthermore, even if we assume this to be true, there is no reason to think that we *must* call this “marriage”, or that the term “marriage” cannot be used to identify other beneficial relationships.

    It isn’t as if people were observing relationship trends, found one uniquely beneficial, then decide to call that “marriage”, and now we’re trying to change that term to be more flexible. No, there were all kinds of different beneficial relationships under the umbrella of “marriage” (or whatever term was used in that culture), and you want to claim that only one – the most recent in Western Civilization – deserves to be called as such.

    “Social convention” and “human fabrication” are not synonymous. By “convention” all I mean is an agreed-upon set of principles. The word “social” is simply meant to denote that it is culturally-dependent. For instance, it is a social convention in western society that you shake people’s hands when introduced. This is not the case in other societies, but they have other customs. We can lump all this into a category of “Greetings”. Shaking hands is a “greeting”, just as a kiss on the cheek is a “greeting”.

    The analogy to your way of thinking is that (hypothetically) ONE of these customs has become particularly beneficial. Therefore, now we can ONLY call hand-shaking as a “greeting”. Furthermore, because this custom/convention has been found to be particularly good, we can NEVER change it, or lump anything else into it – certainly nothing that has never been considered a “greeting” before. Because if it never has been, it must never be.

    You are agreeing, so far as I can tell, that marriage is a social convention in the sense of hand-shaking as a greeting. You want to argue, however, that marriage is ALSO something else: a “natural reality” that the convention stumbled onto. It is unclear to me what you mean by that, and even less clear how you would prove it. Even if a particular custom was found to be particularly helpful (like not eating with the hand that you wipe your butt with), it doesn’t make that custom a “natural reality” that must be exclusively identified with certain terminology.

    Considering that example, every culture (that I know of) that has this custom wipes with the left and eats (and anything else) with the right. If I were to do the opposite, they would be horrified and offended. YOU CAN’T DO THAT, they would say – is this because of custom/convention, or because of the “natural reality” of wiping with your left hand? It seems to me that merely pointing out the *benefit* of wiping with your left and eating with your right does nothing to demonstrate some “natural reality” of the convention that requires exclusive terminology.

  16. @SteveK

    As for the motorcycle-skateboard analogy, the analogy is problematic in several respects, but rather than attack the analogy, which is simply going to spawn either exasperation or more analogies, I am simply going to say that I don’t see a simple yes-no answer to this question with distinctions being provided.

    I would contend that there is no reason to believe in a Plato’s Form of Motorcycles. No evidence to think an ethereal reality of “Motorcycle Concept” exists and transcends our own, impressing itself upon us. The etymology of a word does not necessitate being used in conjunction with its literal meaning. Intention does not dictate reality. Concepts are not immutable. Thus, the word “really” in the question you ask is nebulous.

    What reality are you referring to? Objective reality – of the kind that is true, whether or not we believe it to be? Like I said, I don’t think there is a “true motorcycle” in that sense. No doubt there are such things as a two-wheeled vehicle, powered by a motor, with no pedals. That much is objectively real. Likewise, there is such a thing as a board with small wheels attached to the bottom of either end. Such a device is objectively real. They are not *exactly* the same thing – this is objectively real. But “motorcycles” and “skateboards” are designated as such by convention. Labeling with the same word does not mean that they are EXACTLY the same, only that they share at least something critical in common. Such critical characteristics are not determined by “reality”; they are determined by convention. If the question was referring to objective reality, then – no – the items are not “really” the same, but there is still no “real” reason to not consider them similar enough to give them a common label.

    Definitions are not necessarily discoveries. Some definitions are such merely because of convention. There are no rules, that I am aware of, that determine just how similar something has to be in order to use the same phrase – unless one considers existing definitions as “rules”. And to some extent they are – but they obviously are not immutable. For instance, no one complains when the word “dwelling” is legally made more flexible so that it refers to things no one would have originally thought of. Why? Because the word and concept are not considered sacred, and the purpose behind it was good. Or perhaps merely because the distinction is legal, and doesn’t affect very many folks.

    Ultimately, this is why people are objecting to SSM. Not because they consider definitions to be so important in principle, but because on some level they believe marriage to be sacred and/or consider homosexuality to not be good. That may not be true of every SSM opponent, but it’s definitely true of the majority. But the legal distinction is something critical that I think is important to note: words have different meanings in different contexts. Even if one wants to cling to marriage being sacred and its common definition inviolable, it would seem to require an altogether different argument to say that it cannot have a different legal meaning.

    I mean, maybe motorcycles and skateboards are not the same thing, but if case ruling by SCOTUS incorporated “skateboard” in with motorcycles in order to protect skateboard owners in some way, would you really object?

  17. And as it turns out, I guess there are actually numerous historical examples of same-sex marriages being formally recognized. i wasn’t aware of that. So, the least common denominator approach in trying to show that marriage must be heterosexual goes out the window as well. That may not affect arguments from those here, and certainly heterosexual unions were still the norm much more often than not, but it is nevertheless worth noting.

  18. JB,
    Due to my schedule I’m going to have to wrap this up. I’ve come to the conclusion that your view of the SSM debate is not the correct one. Nobody I hear is arguing that it’s a human right to co-opt a term that is a product of human convention.

    This is what I am hearing. SSM advocates want to be recognized as legally married because they think SS relationships ARE marriages (but unrecognized). That sounds very similar to the argument I am making, but from the other side. But if things are as you say, there’s nothing to that argument – or at the very least it’s so complicated that nobody can really be sure.

    If everything boils down to human convention, then what’s all the fuss about? If you feel there are legitimate rights being violated, then take that issue up separately.

  19. JB,
    One last comment to add. I wish this video was up before because it says a lot of the same things I have been trying to say. You can argue that everything from society placing a value on heterosexual couples to society defining the limits of the legal terms we use – that this is merely a matter of human convention – but so what? Nothing logically follows from that so let’s call the whole thing off.

  20. You are correct in that nothing necessarily follows from definitions and/or customs being conventions. It’s only relevant if one is trying to defend the *immutability* of a social institution. As for the video, Greg seems to ignore/overlook the fact that just because same-sex couples cannot procreate via traditional methods, does not mean they cannot procreate at all. Thus, there is still that same reason (if one accepts the governments role in recognizing marriages) to acknowledge/regulate SSM. And that’s simply ignoring the fact that Greg would already accept the legitimacy of marriages that are incapable and/or unwilling to procreate.

    —“Nobody I hear is arguing that it’s a human right to co-opt a term that is a product of human convention.”—

    That’s because it’s already understood.

    —“SSM advocates want to be recognized as legally married because they think SS relationships ARE marriages.”—

    What I hear is that they are “marriages” in every sense of the word EXCEPT for the heterosexual union part, and the main reason for insisting on that particular requirement is a current and historical aversion to homosexuality. What I hear is that this is a reflection of bigotry against homosexuals, and thus changing it achieves more equality, which would generally be a good thing – unless one wants to lump in homosexuals with pedophiles, inbreeders, etc., as is so often done in this debate (highlighting the root of the problem).

    —“If everything boils down to human convention, then what’s all the fuss about?”—

    Changing the convention so that it doesn’t unnecessarily marginalize a significant group of people. Why is that so hard to understand?

  21. So the argument is that this particular Slate author spewed forth some terribly nonsensical, irrational blather drawing tenuous connections between same-sex marriage and polygamy, this is proof that marriage-equality supporters must be rationally committed to polygamy?

    We’re kidding here, right?

    Also do note, she cited religious freedom as a reason to support polygamy. I note the absence of any article opining that religious freedom is a sure step down the slippery slope to polygamy. Curious. Curious too, is the absence of writings from marriage-inequality proponents sounding the alarm that arguments from tradition and natural law, both (along with arguments from religious freedom) some of the most favored staples of the polygamist apologist, will similarly send us dangerously close to the abyss. Hmmm…

  22. In so many words, that’s pretty much what it was, if you read the article.

    End times are nigh, b/c two articles (a whole two!) appeared which seemed to endorse some form of polyandry or polygamy. Never mind such articles sporadically pop up from time to time, and have for years. They are nothing new. This one in particular looks like a controversy-generating puff-piece – short on substance, but loaded with click-generating bait.

    The article you cite concedes that her arguments are poor – but alleges there is some mysterious logical link from SSM to polygamy… so what is this link? The only thing we are left to surmise is that gay marriage supporters are logically bound by poor arguments for polygamy. What?

    And check it out! An article from Slate, citing research that undermines polygamy: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/01/the_problem_with_polygamy.html

    How much would you like to bet that there was never a response, titled “Slippery Slope?! Maybe not!” from BreakPoint or Dr. George.

  23. The argument, d, is that marriage-inequality-supporters-who-draw-the-line-differently-than-man-woman-marriage-inequality-supporters use the same arguments to support their position as marriage-inequality-supporters-who-draw-the-line-differently-yet-and-who-include-polygamy-in-their-definition-of-marriage.

    So when the marriage-inequality-supporters-who-support-polygamy-and-call-it-equality make their call for such “equality,” and they already are, the arguments they use are the ones that you have already used to support your own brand of inequality; so there will be no preventing the slide to their brand of inequality instead.

  24. I’ll come back later to the research article you mentioned. Don’t hesitate to remind me if I forget—I’m traveling again.

  25. Tom, your slippery-slope objection depends on the following assertion by you:

    –“…the arguments they [polygamy-supporters] use are the ones that you have already used to support your own brand of inequality [SSM]; so there will be no preventing the slide to their brand of inequality instead.”–

    Let’s observe the following “arguments” that were presented in favor of polygamy in the Slate article:

    – legalizing polygamy would make rape and/or child abuse easier to combat

    – Consistent with religious freedom

    – Would be immigrant family-friendly

    – “Freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us.”

    First, note that the first three reasons cited are NOT SSM arguments. Second, note that while the last is pretty much what SSM advocates contend, there is a significant difference between polygamy and SSM that would prevent the “slide”, so to speak: polygamy is not an orientation (at least not that we know of). Homosexuals are marginalized because of who they are, which makes it a form of minority discrimination. It would be far more difficult to make this argument about polygamy.

  26. Agreed, JB. There are arguments in favor of polygamy that are not arguments in favor of SSM. But how many arguments are there in favor of SSM that are not also construable as arguments for expanding marriage beyond unrelated same-sex pairs?

    (I’m not impressed with the “who they are” exception: polygamists can do that too. Homosexuality was never considered an identity until quite recently; what’s to prevent the same from happening to polyandry or polygyny?)

  27. That knowledge is recent does not make it spurious, much less wrong, as you well know. I’d be much more interested in hearing an actual objection as to why we doubt the assertion. Is it possible that “polygamist” will eventually be considered an identity? I very much doubt it, only because the only difference between a polygamist and most other heterosexual men is the willingness to let multiple partners stay in their abode at the same time. The desire to marry, and not just commit, is a highly specific social/religious characteristic.

    Regardless, there is a problem inherent in the question. Why do the arguments in favor of SSM have to be arguments ONLY in favor of SSM? There are no “arguments” in favor of the traditional view that could not also be extended to heterosexual polygamy. Consider the 6 “facts” listed here : http://bit.ly/ZAWGwm , not one – save perhaps “socially endorsed”, which is culturally relative – provides a case for monogamy as opposed to polygamy. The restriction to just two is merely, well, due to social acceptance.

    While I realize that many who defend traditional marriage definitions will also be, in many/most cases, the same as those who resist the “who they are” argument, the more relevant fact here is that those who would accept it are more likely those who aren’t going to be defending traditional marriage as exclusively true. Thus, they are not likely to be attacking a revised definition of marriage (should it pass) on those grounds. So even if you’re not impressed by it, the fact of the matter is that it is still an argument in favor of SSM that does not easily fall prey to a “slippery slope” objection (as if that were a valid objection anyway).

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