There is no doubt that today’s society is much more accepting of homosexuality than in the recent past and, unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly true in the evangelical community as well. The moral acceptability of homosexuality has naturally led to increased demands from the gay-rights community to legalize same-sex marriage. While Canada settled the issue regarding its legality in 2005, the United States has yet to reach any type of consensus. What is worrisome about this debate is that it is becoming increasingly common for supporters of same-sex marriage to not only argue against traditional conceptions of marriage but to also go further and equate opposition to same-sex marriage with bigotry, racism, and various other social evils.
In what follows I aim to outline one basic argument against the legality of same-sex marriage. There are other arguments to be sure, but this is one that is particularly relevant in the “public square” since it does not rely on any Biblical texts or religious sentiments. From my refraining from making a Biblical case against such behavior now one should not conclude that I do not think that such a case can be made. To the contrary, the Bible is unequivocal in its rejection of all forms of homosexual activity. It is explicitly condemned in the Old Testament and also in the New Testament (thus putting aside worries that Old Testament condemnations are simply part of ceremonial laws that no Christian today follows). If the issue were not so serious, the hermeneutical gymnastics liberal commentators have to engage in to explain away such clear teachings would be downright funny. But, the specifics of that argument must be left to another day.
I begin with the simple fact that throughout history the term ‘marriage’ has regularly been used to pick out the special union of a man and a woman. While I’m sure some sociologist can find some special group or tribe that did not use the term in that way, they will always be merely the exception to the rule. It would be strange of us to no longer think that Western society has been able to count to ten for the past thousands of years even if we happen to learn that some remote tribe didn’t have the concept of a number greater than eight. The point here is not to engage in a precise historical argument about the term’s use or even to say that the historical usage of the term must carryover to today (lest we be guilty of committing an appeal to tradition). The point is that the advocate of same-sex marriage is the one pushing for society to change its long-accepted practice regarding marriage. In other words, the advocate of same-sex marriage must give the rest of us reasons as to why a change is needed. Thankfully, such advocates have accepted this burden of proof. Unfortunately, for them, upon examination the primary argument given for accepting same-sex marriage is quite bad.
The most common argument given in favor of adopting a new conception of marriage is that to refrain from doing so is a type of discrimination. Why, though, must we think of it as discrimination? After all, when it comes to using public restrooms we discriminate between men and women all the time. In this case, though, such discrimination is perfectly acceptable because one’s sex is relevant to the simultaneous use of a public restroom. But isn’t that the very criterion, i.e. sex, the “traditionalist” uses in deciding whether two people can get married? It would seem so, but there is a differentiating factor between the two cases. And here is where the same-sex marriage advocate’s argument goes sour.
In cases of marriage, sex does not matter as long as both individuals are a) adults and b) freely give their consent. What goes on between two consenting adults isn’t really anyone else’s business, especially since these two people love each other. Why in the world would someone want to prevent two adults that deeply love each other from being able to express that love in such a meaningful way? Well, the primary reason is that being consenting adults is not a sufficient condition for getting married. Here’s why.
As soon as you say the only thing that matters is that two people love each other, then you immediately face a slippery slope. A ‘slippery slope’ is when some action logically leads to some other, unwanted, action. The key here is that there must be some logical connection between the first action and the subsequent ones. If there is no connection then one is still giving a slippery slope argument, but it’s now a slippery slope fallacy. So, what is it that is supposed to inevitably follow from allowing same-sex marriage? At the moment I can think of two things, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we could come up with a few more.
First, what is to prevent three or more people from claiming that they would all like to marry one another? Why should the above conditions for marriage be limited to two people? Isn’t such a limitation discriminating against their ‘rights’? After all, all the people in the group are a) adults and b) freely giving their consent. Why do we old-fashioned types that think marriage is restricted to two people (even, perhaps, regardless of sex) get to decide the limits of marriage? This is even more problematic, the argument goes, since everyone in the group loves each other dearly. Why in the world would someone want to prevent a group of adults that deeply love each other from being able to express that love in such a meaningful way? Accepting ‘consenting adults’ as a sufficient condition for marriage is not off to a good start.
Okay let’s assume that the above problem just magically disappears somehow. We have no way of preventing such arguments from being made, but let’s pretend it’s not a problem. A second worry still arises for advocates of same-sex marriage. What is to prevent two people from the same family from getting married? If a brother and sister are a) adults and b) freely giving their consent, then who are we to say such a marriage should be disallowed? It turns out that ignoring the above problems related to group marriages won’t help too much because they simply pop up again regarding incestuous marriages. I mean, after all, why in the world would someone want to prevent two adults (that just happen to be related) that deeply love each other from being able to express that love in such a meaningful way? Now lest one think this is some crazy homophobic contrivance, there is actually case being heard in Germany where a brother and sister are suing to decriminalize incestuous marriages (see further resources below). What is their argument? Well, it should be obvious by now. They’re consenting adults and the State shouldn’t have a say about whether consenting adults get married.
By now one should see that what makes this a legitimate slippery slope argument is that accepting ‘consenting adults’ as a sufficient condition precludes the possibility of ruling out group and/or incestuous marriages. These are not sufficient conditions (even jointly) for marriage, but instead are merely necessary.
So it seems that the primary argument for same-sex marriage is a failure, assuming you find group marriages and incestuous marriages unacceptable. Because the argument for changing the common and long-standing practice of marriage as being between a man and a woman is a failure, one is perfectly justified in continuing in this venerable tradition. What the advocate for same-sex marriage must do is provide the condition(s) that makes same-sex marriage acceptable but refrains from making group and incestuous marriages acceptable too.
- William Lane Craig, “A Christian Perspective on Homosexuality”. (Free registration and log in required.)
- Anna Maria Tremonti’s interview, “Decriminalizing Incest”, with the German “couple’s” lawyer is a bit disturbing but worth the time.
Please feel free to email any comments or questions about this post to Comments@TheBayviewReview.com.