With increasing movement toward normalising homosexual monogamy by legal recognition of gay marriage, I have noticed certain desperation in the arguments for the opposition. My first instinct was to have a bit of a chuckle at the silly fundies, but I have begun to see some whom I would otherwise consider intelligent people spouting some of the most ridiculous reasons to block this move toward marriage equality. My goal in this post is to clarify some common objections and unpackage the assumptions made by these claims and try to understand how people can believe them… and hopefully set some minds at ease.
- Gay Marriage will open the doors to bestiality, paedophilia, polygamy, incest, necrophilia, and people marrying inanimate objects or robots.
The foundational assumption of this argument appears to be a belief that prior to the last decade, marriage was clearly defined and had remained essentially unchanged since the dawn of time. The reasoning seems to then follow that any alteration to the eternal norm will be the thin end of the wedge which will ultimately result in the complete destruction of marriage as an institution and the legitimisation of every possible perversion.
Major Premise: Marriage has always been defined as between one man and one woman.
Minor Premise: Altering the definition of marriage in any way will set a precedent allowing further alterations.
Conclusion: Gay marriage will inevitably lead to one massive clusterfuck of underage robotic animals who are dead and related.
Unspoken Assumption: This would be bad.
My personal theory as to why this argument has been so successful is that it leverages ignorance on a number of fields and is soothing to the ears of conservatives and, as any argument based on ignorance, can only be countered with knowledge. Knowledge rebuttals take time and research. Water cooler debates allow for neither. It is also a bit of a hydra. An unwary combatant may be tricked into decapitating the bestiality argument only to then face two more empty heads, each more ferocious than the last. The majority of debaters will lose patience in the face of this argument long before it can be fully addressed.
While the conclusion is the most glaringly obvious target, it is actually the argument’s strongest point because it can be quickly swapped out for an infinite number of ridiculous variations. The real weakness lies in the major premise and only requires a brief glance at the history of marriage to counter.
For all of these arguments, the basic rational justification for homosexual marriage in a modern context is as follows:
Major Premise: Marriage is currently defined as a legally binding “life-long” union between two consenting adults of opposite genders until one of them dies or they decide they don’t really want to be married anymore, which provides legal and social benefits.
Minor Premise: Discrimination of legal status on the basis of sex is a violation of accepted human rights.
Conclusion: It is a violation of human rights to deny the legal and social benefits of marriage to any person on the basis of the sex of their partner.
1.A: Gay Marriage will open the doors to Polygamy.
Of all the claims presented by the slippery slope argument, this is probably the most realistic. In essence, it states that if marriage is redefined as a union between two equals of any sex, it is a natural progression to allow partnerships involving three or more members to achieve legal legitimacy through marriage.
From a point scoring perspective, same sex marriage is a gender equality issue dealing with human rights. There is no human rights issue involving the number of partners a person is permitted to have and therefore the logic used to demand gay marriage is not strictly applicable to polygamous marriage. However I am also keenly aware that social trends do not tend to hold closely to the logical foundations but more to the cosmetic appearances. Once a partnership between two consenting adults can be legitimised through marriage, the next obvious question is why only two?
Aside from the massive potential for exploitation for tax evasion and access to other legislative advantages provided to married couples at the expense of singles, and the legislative nightmare of multi-tiered marriage webs and their associated divorce cases, there really isn’t any good reason to stand in the way of group marriages among consenting adults other than that it is damn confusing.
Having spent the last decade living in student share houses, I have first hand experience of the financial and social benefits of group living situations, and also the problems associated with having two house mates who can get along with everybody but each other. I can see the practical benefits of group marriage, as well as elevated risks and potential for pain and betrayal if things go wrong. That said, if people want to put themselves in that kind of position, there really isn’t any intrinsic reason why it wouldn’t work. I can’t see a legitimate reason for society to stand in the way of people giving it a go.
To summarise: Gay marriage might open the door to polygamous marriage. Okay. If that is the case then the onus is on the opposition to present a case why this would be a bad thing. I am yet to see such an argument which is founded on anything other than vaguely held religious imagery or misguided feminist assumptions about multi-amorous marriage conditions.
1.B. Gay Marriage will open the door to Paedophilia.
This is a stunningly weak argument but it has prominence in the debate because it pushes people’s buttons and gets people excited. This is a genuine slippery slope fallacy because it fails to account for the sizable differences in legal status for a legal relationship between two consenting adults and an illegal relationship between an adult and a child below the age of consent.
To humour this argument far more than it deserves, let’s ignore the obvious issue of a police raid on the honeymoon suite followed by a jail term which grows longer with each congical visit. Unless you live in France, marriage doesn’t give you automatic rights to sex so let’s just look at this issue in terms of legal union for the moment. Most cultures have specific rites of passage that distinguish an adult from a child. These range from reciting large chunks of religious texts to slitting the throat of a Greek warrior on the field of battle. Western countries tend to base it the number of times the earth has orbited the sun’s relative position to the rest of the Milky Way galaxy. It takes between sixteen and twenty five revolutions to confer full adult status. Until the position of the stars decrees an individual to be capable of adult decisions, they cannot legally engage in certain risky activities. They cannot drink whiskey, drive a car, own a firearm, buy shares, upload naughty photos to the internet, get a mortgage, run up a massive credit card debt, or get married.
It is not possible for a minor to get married. Even if the laws are changed to reduce the number of required solar rotations to qualify for adult status, the new age of consent would then mark the point where that individual is no longer a minor. If you are worried about 12 year olds getting married; I recommend you should be more worried about them driving a car they charged to their MasterCard after downing a bottle of bourbon.
The social and legal changes required to classify children as consenting adults for the purpose of marriage are massively prohibitive and entrenched into Western culture. It would take a lot more than gay marriage to re-open the door to legitimised paedophilia to even a fraction of the degree that was common during the Christian middle ages.
1.C. Gay Marriage will open the door to Beastiality.
Now we are getting to the more obscure and less compelling arguments. The idea of marriage between a consenting adult human and any non-human living organism has the same basic issues of consent. The foundation of the logic of allowing homosexual marriage is the idea of mutual consent. So even setting aside the fact that a sexual relationship between a human and an animal violates a bunch of laws, animals do not currently have the cognitive capacity to make an informed decision on the matter and are unlikely to be considered capable of such decisions for some time into the future.
1.D. Gay marriage will open the door to relationships with robots, corpses, and other inanimate objects.
Again, this is an issue of consent. Programming a robot to say “I do” is not the same as informed consent. Technology may advance to the point where computers are able to able to understand the concepts of marriage sufficiently to enter into such a covenant, but that is a fair way off and it is a fair bet that they’ll be keeping us as pets shortly after in any case so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
1.E. Gay marriage will open the door to incest.
To be fair, I will admit that there is a remote possibility of this happening. The laws preventing marriage to close relatives are from an assumption that marriage exists for the purpose of producing children. Due to the availability of contraceptives, planned pregnancy, adoption and IVF; marriage, sex and reproduction are no longer considered inseparable. Gay marriage removes any doubt. Marriage no longer carries an expectation to produce children nor is it a requirement of producing children. Sexual intercourse also, is no longer a requirement for producing children nor does it necessarily lead to children. Since the foundational reason for a ban on marriage between close relatives is to avoid the genetic bottle neck caused by successive generations of inbreeding and the resulting deformities; a separation of sexual intercourse and child production could potentially allow for the legalisation of incestual relationships. It is my prediction however, that since it would still be undesirable to produce children from such a union and no politician wants to be in the position of writing laws for mandatory abortion, it is likely that marriage between brother and sister will continue to be unacceptable. While there is no practical reason to deny siblings of the same gender the right to marry each other, I suspect that there will not be sufficient public support to push it through for a very long time.
2. Gay Marriage will affect children’s right/need for access to both male and female parents.
The first response that comes to mind when I hear this argument is to assume that the person had extremely neglectful parents and somehow is under the impression that babies are produced by “marriage”. After a few attempts at explaining the facts of life, bees pollenating flowers and such, I have come to realise that proponents of this argument are marginally less ignorant than initially supposed. But only marginally. The basic argument goes like this.
Major Premise: The primary purpose of marriage is to raise children and the only reason that people would want to get married is because they want to have children.
Minor Premise: Children who are raised without access to male and female role models (some versions require that these are their heterosexual biological parents) will be irreversibly scarred.
Conclusion: Gay marriage leads to child abuse.
Unspoken Assumption: Homosexuality is something that young children should not be exposed to.
I WISH that was a straw man but I am appalled to say that I have not found a single example of this argument that can’t be reduced to “homosexuality is bad and homosexuals should not be permitted to raise children”. That said, because people believe it, it is necessary to examine the foundations rather than dismissing it out of hand.
Regarding the major premise: Marriage is not a parenting licence. While I do occasionally think that a healthy dose of progesterone in the water supply would do a lot more good than fluoride, I always come to the conclusion that people need to be able to choose for themselves if raising a child is something they have the resources (love, time, money, etc) to do in order to be considered free. Since there is no law preventing unmarried couples or singles from adopting or getting IVF treatment, this argument does not appear to be about homosexual marriage but rather about preventing children who are being raised by homosexual parents from having access to the stability that marriage could provide.
Regarding the minor premise: I have seen articles on this argument which quote long lists of academic journal articles as evidence that children who have access to a mother and father do better than those who don’t. Things always sound more convincing if you quote scientific studies… unless you are dealing with a Jaminologist who will look up those studies to check their methodologies. Every study referenced in these articles that I have seen is comparing children raised by two parents with children raised by one parent. At the time of writing, there are a number of scientific on the effects of children being raised by two loving homosexual parents (like this or this) by comparison to those raised by both biological parents, and they actually compare favourably.
Since there is rational foundation for neither the major nor minor premises, the only foundation for this argument is the unspoken assumption. Since this assumption generally comes from religious motivations, it should not have a role in determining the rights of people who do not hold the same religious convictions in order to preserve religious freedom. As such, this argument is also invalid.
So there you have it: Some extremely thorough responses to the two most common objections to homosexual marriage. If you feel I have misrepresented your opinion or have arguments or rebuttals which I have not addressed, please feel free to comment. I always relish the possibility of being proven wrong. I consider it the most rewarding part of argument. If you have encountered any arguments which I have not covered that you would like addressed, please post a comment. The more arguments I can address in this post, the more useful it will be as a resource. If you loved the article, please rate it and send the link to people you think would benefit from reading it. If you’d like to get updates, there are numerous ways to subscribe.