Archive for the ‘The Slippery Slope’ Category

Why Not Polygamy?

April 10, 2013

polygamyBy John Witte, Jr., The Washington Post, 11/09/12  (excerpt)

Western writers have long argued, and modern studies now document, that polygamy is unjust to women and children – a violation of their fundamental rights and dignity, we now say. Young women are harmed because they are often coerced into early marriages with older men. Once pushed aside for a rival co-wife, women are reduced to rival slaves within the household. They are then exploited periodically for sex and procreation by emotionally detached husbands. They are forced to make do for themselves and their children with dwindling resources as still other women and children are added to the household against their wishes. If they protest their plight, if they resort to self-help, if they lose their youthful figure and vigor, they are often cast out of their homes — impoverished, undereducated, and often incapable of survival without serious help from others.

Children are harmed because they are often set in perennial rivalry with other children and mothers for the affection and attention of the family patriarch. They are deprived of healthy models of authority and liberty, equality and charity, marital love and fidelity, which are essential to their development as future spouses, citizens, and community leaders. And they are harmed by too few resources to support their nurture, education, care, and preparation for a full and healthy life as an adult.

Men, too, are harmed by polygamy. Polygamy promotes marriage by the richest not necessarily the fittest men in body, mind, or virtue. In isolated communities, polygamy often leads to ostracism of rival younger men. Polygamy inflames a man’s lust, for once he adds a second wife, he will inevitably desire more, even the wife of another. And polygamy deprives men of that essential organic bond of exclusive marital companionship, which ancients and moderns alike say is critical to most men’s physical, psychological, moral, and even spiritual health.

Read the entire article here.

John Corvino Explains Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Gay Marriage

September 28, 2012

John Corvino, Chair of the Philosophy Department at Wayne State University (Detroit), has recently published on YouTube a ten-part video series on same-sex marriage. Each video is succinct (about 3 minutes), entertaining, and informative. Corvino is an accomplished speaker, and you will want to hear what he has to say. It is the best half-hour presentation on this topic that you will find anywhere.

 Here they are:

The Definition of Marriage

Are People Who Oppose Gay Marriage Bigots?

Is Homosexuality Unnatural?

Is Gay Marriage a Threat to Religious Freedom?

Do Children Need a Mother and Father?

Is Gay Marriage a Threat to Traditional Marriage?

Why Marriage? (Why not Civil Unions?)

If Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?

Debunking the Regnerus Study.

What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?

Rick Santorum Should Ditch the “Slippery-Slope” Metaphor

January 25, 2012

Rick Santorum

Would somebody please explain to Rick Santorum why he was booed at a recent town hall appearance in Concord, New Hampshire?

When a young lady in the audience asked him about “two men who want to marry the person that they love,” he cut her off, saying, “What about three men?” Then he trotted out his boilerplate “slippery slope” argument:

It’s important that if we’re going to have a discussion based on rational thought, that we employ reason. Reason says that if you think it’s OK for two, you have to differentiate with me why it’s not OK for three. Let’s just have a discussion about what that means. If she reflects the values that marriage can be for anybody or any group of people, as many as is necessary, any two people or any three or four, marriage really means whatever you want it to mean. [emphasis mine]

Here’s my point of view. And we’re done talking about this issue. We’re going to move on to something else.

Santorum appears not to understand the meaning of “discussion,” the purpose of town halls, or the requirements of rational thought. After rudely interrupting this audience member and insulting her intelligence, he offers an argument that is fundamentally flawed, then declares the “discussion” will be closed after he has stated his point of view. What could be more irking to an audience?

His argument is flawed for two reasons.

(1) If two, then why not three?

First, consider this part of his statement: “Reason says that if you think it’s OK for two, you have to differentiate with me why it’s not OK for three.”

This astonishing and utterly unreasonable claim is not just a momentary lapse on Santorum’s part, because he has said it before—many times. Taken at face value, it means that any monogamous marriage is the first step on the slippery slope to polygamy. And that begs the question, “Why not also ban opposite-sex marriage in that case?”

How are we to explain this bizarre statement? I suspect, though I cannot possibly confirm, that a word or phrase is missing after the adjective “two.” Santorum has mentally edited out a phrase from that position, and that phrase is something like “wicked and depraved persons,” which he has used before. He thinks but cannot say, “…if it’s OK for two wicked and depraved persons to marry, then why not three?” Or maybe the thought-phrase was “two of those people,” or “two perverts.” Something said in the company of family and close friends cannot be uttered when the public is listening.

(2) The slippery slope

The second flaw in Santorum’s response is his very choice of the slippery-slope argument, which logicians, jurists, and scientists universally regard as a logical fallacy.

The fallacy of the slippery slope argument is in supposing that a single step in a particular direction will inevitably lead to taking all the remaining steps. This may be true in the case of jumping off a rooftop, but it is not true in other life situations where choices are still available after the initial step has been taken.

Consider the following argument: “If we lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, there will only be further demands to lower it to 16, and then to 14. Before we know it, our newborns will be drinking wine instead of milk.”

In this example, the regression from twenty-one to zero is linear, and common sense tells us the skids are not greased and that babies will not soon be drinking wine. But what of Santorum’s “regression” from same-sex marriage to polygamy? It is neither more nor less linear than the “regression” from opposite-sex marriage to polygamy. Both entail increments of one or more, and so again we have equivalence of the two.

Also, if the steps are in the proper order and are in fact slippery, then couldn’t we conclude that opposite-sex marriage is the first step on the slippery stairway? Why choose the second step and not the first as the one to avoid?

And what if we were to discover that Santorum’s first two “steps” are in the wrong order and that polygamous relationships were the norm before monogamous ones in most societies? This was in fact the pattern in nearly all the cultures of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Polygyny was clearly approved in the Torah (Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 17:17) and was practiced among Jews as late as the second century CE. Only within the last hundred years or so has monogamy been in the ascendancy.

If Santorum is to characterize the historical shift away from polygamy as a “progression” and not a “regression,” then where is he to place our newest entrant in the marriage game, i.e., same-sex marriage?  Is it also a progression, or is it a regression following a progression?

The point of all these questions is to show that slippery-slope analogies inevitably lead to muddled thinking of the kind Santorum displayed in Concord. His audience very likely sensed his confusion and resented his refusal to own up to it.

There is a viable alternative to slippery-slope argumentation, and it lies in evaluating every form of behavior on its own merits. We deserve to hear Rick Santorum’s reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex American couples who do not share his particular religious views. So far, he has advanced his badly broken line of reasoning because his objection to same-sex marriage must, for political reasons, appear to be grounded in logic, not church doctrine. Let’s hope that a dogged debate moderator somewhere down the line will smoke him out on this.

And we would appreciate his leaving polygamy, “man-on-dog” sex, and other forms of diversion out of the discussion. They do not belong there.

A Gay Catholic’s Imagined “Confession” to Archbishop Dolan

July 9, 2011

Micro-credit financier John Mattras shares his fantasy of a frank conversation with Archbishop Dolan during the confessional. The subject is same-sex marriage and gay parenting.

Argentina Legalizes Gay Marriage

July 15, 2010

Despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and evangelical groups, Argentina’s Senate has approved legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. The vote, which came at the end of 16 hours of heated debate, was 33 to 27 with three abstentions. The law has the support of President Cristina Fernandez’s center-left government, and polls indicate 70% of the country’s citizens also support it.

Gay and lesbian couples in Argentina now have all the legal rights and responsibilities that come with heterosexual marriage. These include adopting children and inheriting wealth.

Though civil unions between same-sex couples had already been legal in some cities and provinces, Argentina had no nation-wide laws regarding it. Nine couples succeeded in finding judges to marry them, but these marriages were then annulled by the Supreme Court, resulting in a legal controversy that finally roused the legislature to act.

Argentina is the first Latin American country to recognize same-sex marriage. Others, worldwide, are Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. No ill-effects have yet been observed in any of these countries. There have been no reports of heterosexual couples either cancelling marriage plans or seeking divorce because of the legalization of same-sex marriage. No spikes in the frequency of polygamy or bestiality have been observed. The major positive effect has been that more couples may now marry.

This colorful chart, courtesy of Patrick Appel, shows the number of people worldwide who live in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal. (The green spike on the USA’s area reflects California’s recognition of gay marriage in 2008, followed by Proposition 8, which overturned it.)

We need a lot more green on this chart!

NY State Senator Diane Savino Takes on the “Sanctity of Marriage” Argument

December 22, 2009
The same-sex marriage debate has been around so long that the rhetoric on both sides has started to become stale. The right trots out the end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it scenarios and the slippery-slope-toward-polygamy-or-OMG!-bestiality scenarios, while we—the ones who want to look lovingly into our partners’ eyes and say, “I’m so glad I married you!” instead of “I’m so glad I entered into a domestic partnership arrangement with you!”—sometimes sound legalistic, conventional, and boring with our appeals to fairness and common sense.

There seem to be two broad categories of arguments against same-sex marriage—those that conceal their religious basis and those that put it right up front and center. Though the authority of scripture and religious teaching has been weakened in our secularized society, it still has broad appeal, and so we hear—or perhaps “overhear”—the argument that same-sex marriage is a threat to the “sanctity” of marriage. Conservative Christians seem to know what is meant by this claim, and few dare to question it because it is planted squarely in the realm of the sacred, which is of course bristling with taboos. Same-sex marriage advocates may just back off rather than follow the debate into the minefield of religion.

But we don’t need to venture onto that minefield to pursue the argument. Diane Savino, NY State Senator, has shown us how. In a recent (12/2/09) speech on the floor of the NY State Senate, Senator Savino reminds us of how badly the institution of marriage has been abused over the past several decades—and by the opposite-sex crowd! Here is what she had to say:

I know many people are concerned about the destruction of the sanctity of marriage, as well, and they view this as a threat. But let me ask you something, ladies and gentlemen, what are we really protecting when you look at the divorce rate in our society? Turn on the television. We have a wedding channel on cable TV devoted to the behavior of people on their way to the altar. They spend billions of dollars, behave in the most appalling way, all in an effort to be princess for a day. You don’t have cable television? Put on network TV. We’re giving away husbands on a game show. You can watch “The Bachelor,” where 30 desperate women will compete to marry a 40-year-old man who has never been able to maintain a decent relationship in his life. We have “The Bachelorette,” in reverse. And my favorite show, which thank God only ran one season because it was truly distasteful, was “The Littlest Groom,” where 30 desperate women competed to marry a dwarf. That’s what we’ve done to marriage in America, where young women are socialized from the time they’re five years old to think of being nothing but a bride. They plan every day what they’ll wear, how they’ll look, the invitations, the whole bit. They don’t spend five minutes thinking about what it means to be a wife. People stand up there before God and man [and] they swear to love, honor, and obey; they don’t mean a word of it. So if there’s anything wrong, any threat to the sanctity of marriage in America, it comes from those of us who have the privilege and the right, and we have abused it for decades.

So to those who view same-sex marriage as a threat to the “sanctity” of marriage, we say, “Look to your own record. What have heterosexuals done to the institution of marriage?” If gay and lesbian married couples had such a sorry record as straight ones, it would be cited as proof that they shouldn’t be allowed to marry. Why, then, don’t we question the legitimacy of straight marriages, nearly half of which end in divorce in this country? The real “threat” to the sanctity of marriage is not coming from same-sex couples.

The point of raising this question is only to bring perspective into the debate, not to seriously suggest that heterosexuals should be barred from marrying. The more serious and enduring question is about where our focus needs to be if we are concerned about either the health or the “sanctity” of marriage as an institution.

View Senator Savino’s entire speech here. Read the transcript here.

Why Panic Over the Changing Definition of Marriage Won’t Sell for Long

November 27, 2009
Art courtesy of “Dean”

For years, one of the major arguments used by conservative Christians to oppose same-sex marriage has been that the millennia-old definition of marriage will change, causing a near collapse of Western Civilization. Here is a reality check for them:

First of all, the definition has already changed, both in this country and elsewhere in the world. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Norway, and Sweden have already granted same-sex marriage (SSM) the same legal status as opposite-sex marriage. In the U.S., five states have recognized same-sex unions, classifying them as “marriage.” The list of countries poised to legalize SSM is growing. These include Nepal, Portugal, Iceland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Venezuela, and South Africa.  If present trends continue, we can expect to see near-universal acceptance of SSM in Western liberal democracies. Resistance will continue in cultural backwaters like Uganda, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and Jasper, TX.

Secondly, the definition of marriage has been anything but stable over the centuries. Most people now realize that polygamy has been considered a form of marriage in some societies. What many people do not realize, however, is that SSM has been around for a very long time. It was practiced in ancient China, in the early Roman Empire, and during the early Christian era. The historian John Boswell wrote a study called “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” (1995).

Third, we shouldn’t be so troubled that a word’s definition has changed somewhat. It happens all the time. Since when did religious conservatives become so alarmed about semantic drift? Anyway, if I thought we could improve the lives of millions of people by changing the definition of the word “apple,” I’d be more than happy to call it a “fubble” or whatever else you like. Words are only our tools, not our masters, and they are not nearly as important as people.

Wikipedia offers the following examples of words that have undergone semantic drift:

“Mouse” was originally a rodent. Now it is also an input device.

“Guy” originally referred to any “person of grotesque appearance.” Then it just referred to any man. Now, it can also include women, as in “What do you guys think about this?”

“Democrat” had all the negative connotations of “demagogue” at the time of the American Revolution.

“Demagogue” originally meant “a popular leader.” Now it refers to a leader who panders to emotion and prejudice.

“Board” (verb) is used to mean, “enter an aircraft” as well as “walk on to a ship.”

“Broadcast” used to mean “to throw seeds out.”

“Kleenex” used to refer to a brand (only), and now it means “tissue.”

And let’s not overlook the words “gay” and “partner.” I am old enough to remember when people opposed to gay rights used to say they would never agree to using the word “gay” as a synonym for “homosexual.” But guess what! They’re doing it, all except a few die-hards who soldier on like aging hippies who swore they’d never cut their hair. As for the word “partner,” I can remember talking to my attorney fifteen years ago and referring to my “partner” in a context that should have made my meaning clear. He tried to correct me, saying, “Your boyfriend, you mean?” I replied that the individual in question was not a boy and was much more than a friend. These days, it is more likely that anyone insisting on “boyfriend” in that context would be corrected with, “Your partner, you mean?”

This panic over semantic drift of the word “marriage” is a sign that opponents of same-sex marriage are running out of arguments and know it. These efforts to stir up fear about a changing definition are doomed to fail because, basically, most people have far more serious matters to worry about. Sooner or later, even fundamentalists will realize that it takes much more than the lexical revision of a single word to bring about civilizational collapse. These days, there’s stiff competition from melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and species loss.

So, what does that leave? The slippery slope argument? Same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and then on to bestiality and perhaps cannibalism? Apart from inherent weaknesses of the slippery slope argument (which is considered a logical fallacy), we need only look at the record of countries like Canada to realize that SSM has led to nothing else whatsoever. I was there recently and checked the newspapers in vain for any reports of increased bestiality or polygamy.

And what about the argument from Holy Scripture? Appeals to scriptural authority might stiffen the resolve of conservative Christians, but for the rest of us, such appeals are meaningless. The word on the street now is that Scripture is inconsistent and draconian, and that conservative Christians are inconsistent in their use of it. Scripture has lost too much credibility to serve as a guide for public policy concerning SSM.

Bents, Brights, and Ortho Catholics Discuss Gay Issues

May 11, 2009

For some time, I have been tracking Gil Bailie’s blogspot at The blog, which he calls “Reflections on Faith and Culture,” channels the Catholic Church’s official positions regarding homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and other family and sexuality issues. To Bailie’s credit, however, he appears to allow a reasonably unfettered discussion, inclusive of dissenting opinions, even when they so obviously make him uneasy (e.g., his recent remark, on May 5, that he would “love to wish away this entire conversation”).

Since October of last year, Bailie’s blog has generously hosted a succession of very engaging discussions about marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, and other issues of particular interest to the LGBT community, and these discussions have included a host of voices from both the “bents” and the “brights.” Here are the topics. (If you navigate directly to the comments pages, be sure to click “Show Original Post” at the top of each column of comments.)

Pope Benedict’s verdict on condom use in Africa
(April 2, 2009: “We’ve Come a Long Way…”)

Hate Crimes, Marriage Equality
(May 2 2009: “Totalitarian Tolerance”)
(May 5, 2009: “Other Angles on the Same Issue”)
(May 7, 2009: “Processing Down the Aisle…”)
(October 20, 2008: “The Old Gil Bailie…”)

Anti-Gay Bigotry
(February 1, 2009: “Britain, a ‘moral slum’…)

Slipping Down the Slope Toward Triads

April 9, 2009

Ryan Sayre Patrico writes the following in First Things (May 7, 2009):
If I hear one more person say that the slippery slope argument doesn’t apply to gay marriage, I’m gonna scream:
First came traditional marriage. Then, gay marriage. Now, there’s a movement combining both—simultaneously. …The Maui-based World Polyamory Association is pushing for the next frontier of less-traditional codified relationships. This community has even come up with a name for what the rest of the world generally would call a committed threesome: the “triad.”

Ryan Patrico speaks of the slippery slope argument as though it were an entirely reputable type of argument that may be legitimately applied to gay marriage. It is not, and it may not be. The slippery slope argument is considered a logical fallacy and is listed in all kinds of handbooks on logical thinking, bogus argumentation, and the like.  The fallacy of the slippery slope argument is in supposing that a single step in a particular direction will inevitably lead to the whole distance being covered. This may be true in the case of stepping off a cliff, but it is not true in other life situations where choices are still available after the initial step has been taken.

Consider the following argument: “If we lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, there will only be further demands to lower it to 16, and then to 14. Before we know it, our newborns will be drinking wine instead of milk.”

This argument, absurd on its face, is structurally and logically similar to the one Ryan Patrico has advanced, and yet most people would not be fooled by it. Why, then, should Patrico’s argument carry any weight? Well, it shouldn’t, and maybe it’s time for Mr. Patrico to just let out a scream. Then he can stop resorting to this bogus argument.

Note Mr. Patrico’s second and third sentences:

First came traditional marriage. Then, gay marriage.

So, it was traditional marriage that started this slide toward triads?