The Slippery Slope!
Debunking the myth that homosexuality leads to all kinds of bad things.
Oh yes, The Slippery Slope argument!
This argument basically says, “The definition for marriage between one man and one woman comes from the Bible. If we change this definition to anything else, it is no longer Biblical and it will lead to other sins like polygamy, incest, and beastiality.” Or as Kevin DeYoung put it, if you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage, “on what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?” In other words, because we let same-sex couples get married, soon we’ll be legalizing polygamy, bestiality, incest, you name it!
Kevin and many other Christians are saying that the entire idea of marriage is based on God’s definition as found in Genesis 1 — a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman — and so they argue that once you say marriage can be between two men or two women, the definition of marriage has fundamentally changed and thus collapsed. You pull out one brick and everything crumbles. Once you revoke gender as a requirement for marriage, you cannot keep the exclusivity between two people.
Listen to what Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said:
“Same-sex marriage advocates have told us that people ought to be able to ‘marry who they love’ but have also always downplayed the idea that this would lead to legalized polygamy, a practice that very often victimizes women and children. But if love and mutual consent become the definition of what the boundaries of marriage are, can we as a society any longer even define marriage coherently?”
More personally, this is what my pastor from college wrote to me when he found out I was in a relationship with a girl.
“The same theological and ethical arguments for same sex relationships can be used, quite easily, for another deviant sexual expression: polygamy, pederasty, pedophilia, bestiality, you name it. If what is essential is strong affection, mutuality, monogamy, and the lack of Biblical texts that enumerate and obviate every possible variant and named option of a sexual mutation, then why could a grown son and his widowed mother not fall in love and have a sexual relationship for the same reasons you and your girlfriend feel OK about the sexual side of your friendship?”
Whew. So, how to respond? Here are ways I’ve been thinking about this.
1. Marriage equality is about rights, not definitions.
Gay people who are asking for the right to marry are not asking for the definition of marriage to be tossed out the window, but rather, for it to be extended to LGBT people. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, or toss the idea of monogamy, or for that matter sex only with humans, or only with non-relatives, out with gender discrimination. LGBT people want to be treated as equals before the law, before the altar. Our argument is not, “The definition of marriage means nothing to us,” but rather, “Marriage, a commitment between two people, means so much to us that we also want to have a right to it.”
Keving DeYoung also said: “Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the ‘right’ of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.” But he totally misses what LGBT people want and are fighting for. They, like people of any orientation, can have consensual sex whenever and with whomever they want. It’s not the right to have sex, they are fighting for, but the right to make a life-long commitment to only one person, and to receive the benefits of the law that come with that. Not everyone, gay or straight, who is having consensual sex is immediately ushered into the right of marriage, which seems to be Kevin’s odd logic. Only people who promise before the law to devote their lives to each other get that right. So why can’t LGBT people have it too?
2. Removing one clause doesn’t collapse the entire concept.
You can often withdraw various parameters from how we have historically defined something without the entire concept collapsing. Let’s try it out. Conservative evangelicals define marriage as: 1) the lifelong union of 2) two people of 3) opposite gender. If you remove the third qualification, it does not follow that the first and second requirements disappear. Rather, marriage simply remains as 1) the lifelong union of 2) two people.
If Christians believe removing the third qualifier automatically opens up “two” people to three or ten, that is an illogical jump. Or if it opens “people” up to brother, mother, horse or sheep, that is a non sequitur. Unlike what Tony Perkins and his ilk argue, LGBT do not believe that marriage is defined by 1) love and 2) mutual consent. They believe marriage is 1) the lifelong union of 2) two people, just like everyone else. They simply are removing the requirement of gender (as they understand it). They are not rewriting all of the requirements for marriage. The first two requirements (commitment between two people) can remain, logically, even when gender isn’t involved. Taking gender out does not turn “lifelong commitment” and “two people” into “love” and “mutual consent.”
And, in fact, withdrawing various parameters from how we have historically defined something without the entire concept collapsing has happened in significant ways in American history. For example, consider how, in 1870, the right to vote was extended beyond its original limitations of being reserved for only white males to finally being opened up to black males as well in the 15th amendment. Then, in 1920, the right to vote was extended to women in the 19th amendment.
It took a while, but eventually, neither race nor gender could preclude a person from the voting. That didn’t mean that suddenly farm animals could vote, or that one person could vote as many times as they wanted. Nothing about the inherent definition, nature, or value of voting changed despite these huge adjustments regarding who could vote. Likewise, extending the right of marriage to same-sex couples changes how we think about marriage, but that does not mean it destabilizes marriage, just as allowing black people and women to vote didn’t threaten that right. If anything, it actually lends more significance to and appreciation for having the right.
Furthermore, we have already extended the right of marriage before, without the disastrous effects so many evangelicals fear. Not that long ago, in 1967, the Supreme Court deemed anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, thus allowing interracial marriages. Before, marriage had to be 1) the lifelong union of 2) two people of 3) opposite gender 4) of the same race. When we lopped off number #4, did everyone go out and also fight for extra husbands or wives now that the idea of marriage had been extended to biracial couples? Did they fight for marriage to also be extended to familial relations or animals? No.
But, one might say, that is a perfect example of the slippery slope. We lopped off requirement #4, and were left with only three requirements. Now people are fighting to lop off #3, and then soon, people to want to lop off #2, which will open up marriage to as many people as they want to marry. It’s a slippery slope!
I have two responses to this.
a) From this logic, then, you are essentially saying that we should have never deemed anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, because that was a slippery slope that destabilized marriage. Obviously, that is racist, and I think we all agree that it was good and right to allow anyone of any race to marry each other. When reconsidering certain requirements for marriage, we broadened them, correcting our errors, and marriage remained as marriage. This is not a slippery slope but a matter of human dignity and rights.
b) Race and gender are categorically different requirements than life-long commitment and exclusivity between two people. Strong social arguments were made to do away with anti-miscegenation laws. Currently, similar and strong social arguments are being made to do away with gender differentiation requirements. For people to fight for polygamy, however, they would need to make entirely different arguments, since in our society, the laws and taxations would become very complex if polygamy was allowed. The nature and content of the debates would change drastically. Indeed, there are people who don’t have a problem with polygamy, but that has not led us as a nation (or even most Mormons) to accept it, for very different reasons than why we as a nation are becoming accepting of same-sex marriages. Affirming same-sex marriages is a simple extension of a right within an infrastructure already in place (though surely corrections throughout the infrastructure need to happen on a large scale). Affirming polygamy would require an entirely new social infrastructure to be put in place, and to do that without threatening human rights might prove difficult, if not impossible. Same-sex marriage does not threaten these rights. Perhaps someday a group will fight for polygamy, or find that that is best for our society (as it was in, oh yeah, the Bible!), but the arguments in favor of polygamy will not be able to follow from the logic of affirming same-sex marriage. It is not a slippery slope. Same-sex marriage will hopefully funnel in more human rights and equality, but it is not a channel to polygamy, bestiality, or incest.
3. The Slippery Slope argument is little more than fear and alarmism.
It is saying: “But if we let X happen, then Y might happen too!” So now a few comments about this.
Surely, in some scenarios of life, we don’t want to do certain things because they might lead to terrible consequences. We can all think of a million examples. Legally, we have laws in place to prevent the possibility of something bad happening, everything from gun laws to speed limits and so on. Usually, there is a proven cause and effect for why these laws are in place. But, we should not get too carried away with forbidding certain things out of the fear that they might lead to something bad. For example, we don’t outlaw marriage because it might lead to adultery. We don’t avoid stores because we might be tempted to steal. We don’t remain silent because we might tell a lie.
To refuse to extend marriage to same-sex couples out of fear that it might lead to polygamy is unfounded alarmism because we haven’t witnessed any cause and effect yet (despite what Rick Santorum said). But even if we could prove a widespread cause and effect, is that reason to ban marriage between people of the same-sex? Marriage often does provide the context for adultery and sometimes because a person walked into a store, it led them to steal. However, it’s possible for people to still agree that shopping is good, but stealing is bad. Likewise, I think many people, and our country, can simultaneously maintain that marriage equality between two people, even if of the same gender, is good, but between more than two people is problematic.
The Pharisees were well-known for drawing lines far before the actual breaking of the law. In this helpful paper on how the Pharisees understood purity, the writer (a far more qualified scholar than I) explains:
“It is not surprising, then, that a group like the Pharisees built a ‘fence’ around its life. To keep the core clean and pure, one extended the boundary around that core, put a fence on the perimeter, and guarded that outer ‘fence.’ Hence the chief rule was ‘Make a fence around the Law’ (m. Aboth 1.1). And if a fence was appropriate around the Law as a whole, it was appropriate around individual aspects of the Law.”
Why did the Pharisees build a fence around the fence? Fear! This kind of fear can be extreme, and lead to fundamentalism.
In the case of same-sex marriage, there is no evidence yet supporting the feared connection between same-sex marriages and polygamy or bestiality or incest. We don’t always need evidence to know something will be bad for us, but a lack of such evidence in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, should cause us to examine if we are building fences around fences out of fear. And why, if we are Christians, we even have such fear to begin with.
4. The Bible does not have the same constrained definition of marriage that conservative evangelicals have.
As Kevin DeYoung and many evangelicals argue, marriage by Biblical definition must be between two men and two women. I am a Christian writing in response to Christians, and I wholeheartedly agree that it is important for us to consider what the Word of God says about same-sex marriages, since it is the authority over my life. So let’s look look at the passages Kevin DeYoung cites.
Genesis 2:23–25 (ESV)
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Okay, yes, in the beginning, God created a man and a woman. This is how we ended up with two sexes, and the entire human race. But what does the creation of the two sexes have to do with a mandate for every human being to either marry someone of the opposite or not at all? God’s creation of two sexes is not a command for heterosexual marriage exclusively, it is simply the story of how the human race came to be. God did indeed create two genders (though not everyone neatly identifies with one or the other) and that two genders were required to populate the world. Would people of same gender be attracted to each other and is that forbidden? Genesis 2 doesn’t even get into that, though it is laying the foundation for the human race.
Furthermore, few Christians read this verse literally, though they want to be literal about “man” and “wife.” How many Christians insist that when a man is married, he must leave his family to be with his wife’s? Sometimes a wife moves away from her family to be near her husband’s. Sometimes they live nowhere near either set of parents. This is because our culture is drastically different than the culture of Genesis, and thus it is not a literal how-to guide for living in the world today. Most Christians intuitively get that, and yet get hung up on taking “man and wife” to literally only allow for one model of marriage.
Matt. 19:4–6 (ESV)
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Nothing new here than what I already addressed above. Yes, two genders exist. No, a man doesn’t always leave his father and mother when he gets married (unless he was living in their house up until his wedding day, which is weird and a totally different issue). Male and female do became one flesh when married. So do males and males and females and females. The same intimacy is involved. See below for what Matthew Vines says about this.
1 Corinthians 7:2 (ESV)
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
Great! Let people get married so that they can find healthy sexual fulfillment. But saying a man should have a wife, and a woman a man, to avoid sexual immorality is different than saying a man cannot marry a man or a woman cannot marry a woman, especially if they are tempted to have sex with that person. Same-sex and heterosexual marriages can help people avoid sexual immorality. In other words, a suggestion for how to avoid sexual immorality between men and women does not equate to forbidding same-sex marriages. If anything, this verse seems to be teaching the principal to let people get married in order avoid temptation. It is saying to marry the person you are sexually attracted to. It does not give a caveat that this is only true of heterosexual relationships. They simply use heterosexuality as the example for marriage because it was the only option in that culture. Taken in context today, it could be read as a mandate to let gay people get married, precisely because they are tempted to have sex with that person.
Malachi 2:15 (ESV)
Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
Aside from the fact this verse says to not cheat on your spouse and that God likes offspring, I’m not sure why else Kevin uses it as a proof text against same-sex marriage. We all know that when the Bible was written, only heterosexual marriages existed, and thus that is the only language available to its writers. And the Bible’s general wife/husband language doesn’t mean every mention of a man and a wife is a blanket condemnation of same-sex couples for all future generations. (And as a side note, Gentiles at that time were also not even considered the people of God, but of course now Jew vs. Gentile is not a necessary distinction, and our language now accounts for that.) Because same-sex marriages didn’t exist then, Biblical writers didn’t have a broader vocabulary or alternate model for marriage. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t broaden it today in light of everything we know about gender and sexual attraction, and taking into account what the Bible says and doesn’t say about it.
Or, maybe Kevin is fixating on how marriage provides offspring, and using that to say that the Bible only allows heterosexual marriages because they can procreate. So much has been written debunking the procreation problem already, but suffice it to say, this argument is silly. Heterosexual couples don’t always procreate. Gay couples can also raise Godly children. Both situations can be pleasing to God.
So the idea that allowing same-sex couples to get married will destabilize the institution of marriage is simply not true. In fact, such fear is the true threat to marriage. If marriage is such a frail institution that it will crumble just by letting people of same gender commit to each other, than I don’t want that concept of marriage. I want the Biblical understanding of marriage that is strong enough to handle committed love between any two people.
To deny an entire demographic the right to marry is not a way to uphold and protect marriage. It is suffocating it with fearful constraints. The premise on which such false protection is built is the wrong place to start. Don’t deny people the right to marriage based on gender-preference, but rather spend that energy participating in what marriage is for. Ultimately, it is not for society, or even for ourselves. It is to glorify God, and under that goal it is to, as couple, commit your spouse to the Lord, love sacrificially, and so on.
Think of all the wonderful ways we could reinforce the beauty of marriage and virtue of monogamy if we allowed anyone of any sexual orientation to marry the one person they love. This would not drive masses to “deviant sexual expressions,” as my college pastor said, but rather would hold a larger part of the population to the high standards of commitment and give more people access to the sanctifying potential of marriage. Slippery Slope? Marriage is like climbing a mountain where hard work and a singular devotion open one another up to brighter and brighter vistas. Or rather, marriage is the mountain, and the only way up is to link arms with the one person you love and climb slowly, sometimes strenuously and sometimes giddily, to the top. Why insist that letting more people embark on this journey will somehow pull everyone down with them, or at worst, cause the mountain to collapse? Marriage is strong enough to accept anyone who is willing to accept its challenge, and the more people on the journey, the more encouragement and support all married couples will receive on their way up.
* For more robust Scriptural discussion on homosexuality and thoughts on what the Bible says about procreation and many of the issues raised above, read Matthew Vines, Gareth Moore, or James V. Brownson. Or you can read this thorough summary from Justin Lee.
Originally published at lovehermeneutic.tumblr.com.