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Marriage equality is not a slippery slope

“Next you'll be for people marrying and screwing animals. It’s called the decline of society. It will never end.” — St. Cloud Times commenter, Sept. 14,  2012

Jeffery L. Bineham
stcloudstate.edu
Jeffery L. Bineham

Perhaps the fallacy most used to oppose marriage equality is the slippery slope: the argument that to make one decision necessarily leads to other decisions, each one with more egregious consequences. This argument’s most absurd version claims that if we allow same-gender people to marry, our decision will require that we sanction relationships between humans and beasts, and soon our children will wed their pets and farm animals and, to repeat Pat Robertson’s preposterous prediction, we’ll all be having sex with ducks.

Robertson got the response he deserved. This slippery slope is countered easily, because marriage is a contract and non-human animals cannot sign contracts. But numerous versions of this argument exist. A Star Tribune columnist stated that marriage equality would jeopardize our ability to prohibit marriage to one’s sibling or father or to a 12-year-old. A  Community Voices essay in MinnPost predicted that marriage equality would lead to bigamy, polygamy, and group marriage, and would eliminate any legal limitations whatsoever because we “would have to accommodate everyone’s varying definitions of marriage.”

I have written elsewhere that some slippery-slope arguments are based on an understandable premise: If we eliminate traditional standards for evaluating human action, won’t that leave us without any standards by which to govern behavior and society? But the absence of some fixed standard does not mean we will descend unimpeded into moral chaos; it means we must work to identify which standards are most reasonable given the conditions that characterize a given issue at a given time.

And while the belief in a permanent moral arbiter does make it easier to render judgments about human conduct, it also makes us less likely to consider how we might modify those judgments because of changes in knowledge and context.

They're not analogous

The slippery slope arguments against marriage equality make sense only if gay and lesbian marriages are analogous to bigamy, polygamy, incest, and bestiality. They are not. Same-sex marriage differs from the other forms of marriage some people fear, and those other forms of marriage differ from one another. So the question of whether to allow marriages irrespective of age, family status or number of partners involves issues different from the question of whether to allow same-sex marriage, and an argument in favor of the latter is not an argument in favor of any of the former.

The historical record bears this out. Countries and states that have legalized same sex-marriage have not subsequently legalized polygamy, bigamy or sibling marriages.

Why is that? Polygamy provides an illustration. One can make numerous arguments against polygamy that have no connection to arguments about same-sex marriage. A society might determine, for example, that polygamy should be illegal because it is tied to abuse of women, statutory rape and incest, and that same sex-marriage should be legal because it confers none of these problems and a host of benefits.

Even if one makes arguments for polygamy that are related to arguments about same-sex marriage, that does not condemn us to a slippery slope. A society might determine, for example, that anti-polygamy laws disfavor one particular family structure and thus cause unfair treatment of those within that structure. This logic might lead to acceptance of polygamy, but that will not happen because we have legalized gay marriage; it will happen if we decide the logic applies to marriages with multiple partners. Polygamy and same-sex marriage are independent issues.

Slope could go in different direction

To affirm marriage equality does entail rejection of a traditional standard that some perceive to be absolute. But rejection of that standard does not mean we “would have to accommodate everyone’s varying definitions of marriage.” If we’re going to presume a slippery slope, we might presume it slides in the other direction: If we continue to allow our government to prohibit gay and lesbian people from marriage, why could it not prohibit marriage between people with sexually transmitted diseases or people with mental illnesses or people of different races?

Tennessee’s Supreme Court ruled in one marriage-equality case that to alter the definition of marriage would engage the slippery slope: “we might have in Tennessee the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother, the brother with the sister, in lawful wedlock, because they had formed such relations in a State or country where they were not prohibited. [A man] with his numerous wives, may establish [residency in Tennessee], and we are without remedy. Yet none of these are more revolting, more to be avoided, or more unnatural than the case before us.”

That case, in 1872, involved an interracial couple who wanted the right to wed. The slope hasn’t slipped since 1967, when that right was finally granted; no reason exists to presume it will slip when we finally grant marriage equality to same-sex couples who want and deserve the legal protections straight couples enjoy.

Jeffery L. Bineham is a professor of rhetoric in the Department of Communication Studies at St. Cloud State University.

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Comments (32)

The last 2 paragraphs

The last 2 paragraphs are the heart of this. In fact, those last 2 paragraphs are what make the giant billboards all around the Cities, showing a black couple in wedding attire and advocating a yes vote, so offensive. Before it was gay people, it was interracial couples. Before it was interracial couples, is was black people. One day, I hope, we will reach the limit of humanity's ability to discriminate. I'm sure it won't come during my term on this Earth.

Question for Professor Bineham

If you believe the Minnesota United slogan that advises - in their comprehensive statement of belief - "Don't limit the freedom to marry", are you asserting that Minnesota repeal MN Stat. 517.02 and 517.03, which limits the freedom to marry?

Epic fail

Way to COMPLETELY miss the point of the article!

Question for Miss Berg

f you believe the Minnesota United slogan that advises - in their comprehensive statement of belief - "Don't limit the freedom to marry", are you asserting that Minnesota repeal MN Stat. 517.02 and 517.03, which limits the freedom to marry?

All or none

Minor amendments are appropriate. Throwing the baby (i.e., minors and others with no legal ability to consent) out with the bathwater is silly. Quite frankly, it's disingenuous to suggest that anyone that has a problem with the anti-marriage amendment wants to completely repeal the regulations on who can contract through marriage. Although, I would be fine with repealing them both in favor of reasonable regulations on civil unions. Leave marriage to churches, and churches out of civil contracts, if it's a matter of word ownership.

Here's an example of a modified 517.02 (which has been modified as recently as 2009, and were only made law in 2008, in any case):

Every person who has attained the full age of 18 years is capable in law of contracting under civil union, if otherwise competent. A person of the full age of 16 years may, with the consent of the person's legal custodial parents, guardian, or the court, as provided in section 517.08, receive a license to contract under civil union, when, after a careful inquiry into the facts and the surrounding circumstances, the person's application for a license and consent under civil union of a minor form is approved by the judge of the district court of the county in which the person resides. If the judge of the district court of the county in which the person resides is absent from the county and has not by order assigned another judge or a retired judge to act in the judge's stead, then the court commissioner or any judge of district court of the county may approve the application for a license.

The consent for contract under civil union of a minor must be in the following form:

STATE OF MINNESOTA, COUNTY OF .................... (insert county name)

I/We ........................... (insert legal custodial parent or guardian names) under oath or affirmation say:

That I/we are the legal custodial parent(s) or guardian of ........................... (insert name of minor), who was born at ........................... (insert place of birth) on ........................... (insert date of birth) who is presently the age of ....... (insert age).

That the minor has not been previously contracted in a civil union.

That I/we consent to the marriage of this minor to ........................... (insert name of the person with whom minor intends to contract under civil union) who is of the age of ....... (insert age).

That affidavit is being made for the purpose of requesting the judge's consent to allow this minor to contract and make this civil union legal.

Date: .............................

.....................................................................................................

.....................................................................................................

(Signature of legal custodial parents or guardian)

Sworn to or affirmed and acknowledged before me on this ....... day of .................... .

..........................................

NOTARY PUBLIC

Minnesota Statutes

Though I specifically asked the author for his comment, nice try, Miss Kahler. You left out your changes to MN Stat. 517.03.

If Minnesota United simply wanted to advocate for homosexuals to be married, they would have said it in their slogan. They did not. Their slogan - their assertion - is comprehensive: "Don't Limit the Freedom to Marry".

Again, I ask Professor Bineham: If you believe the Minnesota United slogan that advises - in their comprehensive statement of belief - "Don't limit the freedom to marry", are you asserting that Minnesota repeal MN Stat. 517.02 and 517.03, which limits the freedom to marry?

Wherever did you get the idea?

Wherever did you get the idea that a simple one line slogan was exactly the same thing as a comprehensive (i.e. inclusive of everything) statement of belief?

Stop trying to turn this into a "slippery slope". Again, way to COMPLETELY miss the point of Professor Bineham's article.

C'mon

If the state got out of marriages, and modified the statute to define civil unions, there wouldn't be a problem with not limiting the freedom to marry, except as where actions violate other laws (e.g., statutory rape and incest). If a church wants to marry anyone, go for it (they're pretty much already allowed to do this--see plural marriages performed in certain fundamentalist Mormon churches). But once the begetting happens, there may be consequences with certain combinations. Besides which, with the state out of marriage, such unions would not be legally recognized, anyway.

I have to ask, though, are you really being serious? If so, this attempt at a gotcha is pretty lame.

By the way, I didn't provide my changes to 517.03 because I figured that it would be redundant. But if you insist:

517.03 PROHIBITED CIVIL UNIONS.
Subdivision 1.General.

(a) The following civil unions are prohibited:

(1) a civil union entered into before the dissolution of an earlier civil union of one of the parties becomes final, as provided in section 518.145 or by the law of the jurisdiction where the dissolution was granted;

(2) a civil union between an ancestor and a descendant, or between a brother and a sister, whether the relationship is by the half or the whole blood;

(3) a civil union between an uncle and a niece, between an aunt and a nephew, or between first cousins, whether the relationship is by the half or the whole blood, except as permitted by the established customs of aboriginal cultures; and

Subd. 2.Developmentally disabled persons; consent by commissioner of human services.

Developmentally disabled persons committed to the guardianship of the commissioner of human services and developmentally disabled persons committed to the conservatorship of the commissioner of human services in which the terms of the conservatorship limit the right to form a civil union, may form a civil union on receipt of written consent of the commissioner. The commissioner shall grant consent unless it appears from the commissioner's investigation that the civil union is not in the best interest of the ward or conservatee and the public. The local registrar in the county where the application for a license is made by the ward or conservatee shall not issue the license unless the local registrar has received a signed copy of the consent of the commissioner of human services.

Question to Professor Bineham.

I ask Professor Bineham: If you believe the Minnesota United slogan that advises - in their comprehensive statement of belief - "Don't limit the freedom to marry", are you asserting that Minnesota repeal MN Stat. 517.02 and 517.03, which limits the freedom to marry?

Reply button

In the comment scheme on MinnPost, if you reply to someone, your comment appears indented under theirs. If you are replying directly to the article, it is not indented. This comment has been indented under my comment (as was the previous one). Therefore, you're going to get a reply from me.

You have made the same statement at least 3 times. The peanut gallery has answered your questions reasonably and directly. Continuing to state that you asked a question of the author of the article after it was answered is a wee bit ridiculous. It would likely be redundant for Mr. Bineham to answer your questions at this point. Besides, Mr. Bineham is probably wisely ignoring you. Especially since the question is along the same lines as the infamous "have you stopped beating your wife?"

What I would rather see,

What I would rather see, other than changing the wording on the "marriage license", is to remove all organizations, churches, et al from the state contract part of the process. Anyone who wants to get married goes just like they do now and gets the license. Then, after the normal waiting period, gets married via state/government employee. Just like if you get married at the courthouse now.

If you want your marriage recognized by your religion then have a blessing sacrament, marriage blessing ceremony, whatever you want to call it. But you don't need to be "married" to have your faith bless your union and you don't need a church to get married. You don't even at this moment. So make the split permanent and give the churches the blessing side of it and the state the legal side.

Marriage is a state contract. Blessing is a religious sacrament. Done.

Church and state need never meet that way.

This is already the law.

You can get married at a government office. Marriage is a secular as well as a religious concern, and even the secular recognize that stable marriages of a man and a woman who engage in the procreative act are what is best for a stable civil society.

Once again, you fail to

Once again, you fail to explain how those " stable marriages of a man and a woman who engage in the procreative act" are endangered by allowing same sex couples the same rights.

Marriage rights are not a zero sum game.

You will lose nothing once gays are allowed to marry.

Once again, you fail to

realize the idea that homosexuals can get married without the ability to consummate the marriage and procreate is an aberration in the course of western civil society.

No worries. The idea that members of the same sex can get "married" will disappear into history. The demographics are on the side of normal marriages.

the very existence of

the very existence of infertile couples, and couples childless by choice invalidates your first sentence. There are even couples that never "consummate" their marriage.

But, as you say, no worries... within 10 y ears or so, same sex marriage will be legal across all 50 states, and the NoM forces will be tossed on the scrap heap of history, just like the opponents of interracial and inter-faith marriage have been.

Reiterating

Demographics are on the side of normal marriages. Homosexuals can never have the ability to consummate a marriage and procreate. "Same sex marriage" is a contradiction in itself and an aberration in the course of western civil society. The idea that members of the same sex can get "married" will disappear into history, along with even the heterosexual couples that agreed with such a strange idea, for they do not have the birthrate as the religious and those who believe that normal marriages stabilize societies.

Given that gays have existed

Given that gays have existed through all time, that's not going to change. The fact is, gay children have always, and always will be born to heterosexual parents.

"...for they do not have the birthrate as the religious..."

Granted, fundamentalist religions are the fastest growing religions. But you know what's growing even faster? Secularists.

"Fundamentalist religions"

As opposed to who - fundamentalist secularists?

As opposed to less

As opposed to less fundamentalist denominations, like the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA,

Fundamentalist mega-churches are definitely growing faster than those listed above, as well as others. But the secularists/non-affiliated category is growing even faster.

I can't believe this

We're voting on an amendment to the constitution, and we're reading an article about whether or not THAT amendment will prevent people from marrying goats someday. Predictably, instead of addressing the issue a proponent is obviously changing the subject and demanding know what we're going to do about an existing statute that is no one is voting on. AND YOU'RE ARGUING WITH HIM! Way to drift off topic and completely lose sight of the argument at hand.

The issue is: Do we need an amendment in the constitution to prevent a woman from marrying a hamster some day? Or to prevent a man from marrying a five year old? Or prevent a genetically related brother from marrying a sister? Would allowing marriage between two consenting adults of the same sex abolish these prohibitions or legalize statutory rape, incest, and bigamy? The answer to the question at hand is obvious, and it's simply "no".

Is ANYONE ANYWHERE even talking about introducing or amending ANY existing statues to legalize incest, statutory rape, bigamy, or bestiality? Again, the answer is simply "no".

If ever there was a slippery slope argument this is it. Keep your eye on the ball here, the vote is 6 days away.

Question to Mr. Udstrand

f you believe the Minnesota United slogan that advises - in their comprehensive statement of belief - "Don't limit the freedom to marry", are you asserting that Minnesota repeal MN Stat. 517.02 and 517.03, which limits the freedom to marry?

MinnPost moderators

How long does he get to repeatedly hector people with this meaningless question - not just on this thread, but on numerous others?

It's an attempt to hijack, and it's already gotten old.

asked and answered

Multiple times.

I'm curious how much more the moderators are going to let Mr, Krasnoff troll the thread with the exact same question that has already been answered.

Professor Bineham has yet to reply to my question.

Professor Bineham: If you believe the Minnesota United slogan that advises - in their comprehensive statement of belief - "Don't limit the freedom to marry", are you asserting that Minnesota repeal MN Stat. 517.02 and 517.03, which limits the freedom to marry?

I have not gotten a straight answer from all but one - and that answer was somewhat mixed. Some intellectual honesty, not ad hominem, is in order.

Not neccesary

His entire column was an explanation why accepting same sex marriage does not mean we have to accept all the other circumstances you envision. Thus, he's already given you his answer.

And I have a valid point.

It is in my question to him. It points out an error in the thinking of Minnesota United and the people who have an obvious hatred for religious belief and standards in civil society.

Oh, please.

One can oppose this amendment and not hate another's religious beliefs. One also can ask that another's religious beliefs not be imbedded in our laws without hating those beliefs. The fact is, I disagree with your beliefs and don't care to have them govern my life or the lives of my loved ones. Simple enough?

Let me ask you, Mr. Krasnoff, how you feel about incorporation Sharia law in our legal system? If the very idea gives you apoplexy, you can understand how I feel.

The problem with Professor Bineham

I too have noticed that our esteemed professor has refused to answer a question that has no relationship to the article he wrote. I've about had enough this cowardly behavior!

Hmm Neal

I wonder if the fiscal conservatives currently flocking to the "No" team will appreciate your thoughts on the fecundity of your religious fundamentalist brethren. Particularly since a good chunk of that population is on the lower end of the economic and educational ladder (not meant as a slight, just a truthful observation having attended services at a variety of evangelical churches through the years). I have a feeling the attendant rise in social program cost might not be appreciated. Then again the coalition was bound to dissolve some day as the religious right has never been and will never be anything remotely resembling conservative.

Er, Matt...

Mr. Haas wrote:

"your religious fundamentalist brethren"

The Haredim or Reform?

Evangelicals

Make no mistake. Your "brethern" are neither the haredim nor the reform.

I'm Jewish.

I'll ask you again: are the "religious fundamentalist brethren" you speak of the Haredim or Reform?