Gay Marriage and the Slippery Slope

Gay marriage supporters tend to have little tolerance for slippery slope arguments that compare gay marriage to other illegal relationships like incest and polygamy. I know that I have seen impatience with that kind of argument on this blog numerous times, and I have seen it countless times elsewhere as well. Despite protestations to the contrary, the slippery slope is a reality in today’s New York Times.

The New York Times is hosting a discussion of the future of marriage. Stanford law professor, Ralph Richard Banks, contributes a piece to the forum titled, “How Moral Norms Evolve.” He writes:

What now of the two remaining criminal prohibitions of intimate relationships: incest and polygamy? Even as same sex and interracial relationships are accepted, Americans are now imprisoned for incest or polygamy.

The cases against polygamy and incest are not nearly as strong as most people imagine…

Over time, our moral assessments of these practices will shift, just as they have with interracial marriage and same sex marriage. We will begin to take seriously questions that now seem beyond the pale: Should a state be permitted to imprison two cousins because they have sex or attempt to marry? Should a man and two wives be permitted to live together as a family when they assert that their religious convictions lead them to do so?

Just week before last, The New York Times had another article celebrating the possibility of eliminating exclusivity and monogamy as marital values. And again, in this forum, one contributor decries same-sex marriage as forcing sexual relationships into a one-on-one mold. Rather, she argues that our family laws should recognize a wide array of possible sexual arrangements. She writes:

As the United States gradually makes the membership rules to marriage gender-inclusive, it risks deepening our sharp class and race disparities in marriage and family life. If we wish to avoid this fate, we should not be celebrating the benefits of marriage. Instead we need to develop family policies that give greater recognition and resources to the growing array of families formed, as Nancy Polikoff titled her book, “Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage.”

If anyone is still doubting the legitimacy of the slippery slope, think again. We are already well down the hill. Revisionists aren’t simply trying to redefine marriage; they are trying to destroy it. Welcome to the moral revolution of our time.


  • Barry Applewhite

    Nice shot! I seldom see such a strong case for an abstract concept like the “slippery slope.”

    I agree with you that the slope is real and that “we are already well down the hill.” Paul warns us that rebels against God are “inventors of evil” (Rom. 1:30, ESV), and I see that going on in the examples you have provided.


  • Ted W

    Presently, our culture has several “guard rails” around marriage…

    You cannot marry someone under aged (16-18 years)

    You cannot marry a near relative

    You cannot marry someone against their will

    You cannot marry someone while you’re already married (multiple marriages)

    You cannot have have several marriage partners in one union (polygamy)

    If a marriage ends, it must be publicly recognized with a certificate of divorce

    Gay marriage advocates wish to strike down this prohibition…

    You cannot marry someone of the same gender

    If marriage laws are revised to allow those of the same gender to marry, what is the compelling reason to maintain other “guard rails”?

    I’ve asked that question numerous times to SSM advocates and only one gave me an honest answer: “We’re just not there yet.”

  • Paul

    Ted, I’ve given a reasonable answer to that question on the comments section of this very blog. There are other practical reasons why your other examples would never be allowed. As long as there are statutory rape laws on the books, underage marriage would still remain taboo. Marriages of near relatives have been proven to cause gene mutations that just never work out well. Marriage against one’s will would essentially be a state sanctioning of rape. I don’t know of anyone trying to wipe out divorce decrees.

    And insofar as polygamy is concerned, if your major reason for condemning gay marriage is a religious one, then it is absolutely hypocritical of you to deny other religions their preferred marriage rites (speaking here of the Fundamental LDS and Islam, and possibly others).

    There is no reasonable secular argument against gay marriage. Sorry.

  • Sandra

    One man and one woman, married in the sight of God, is the only path the Bible teaches. This path requires total commitment, consistent hard work, and willing sacrifice, concepts no longer widely embraced by our culture. So many have sold out to lesser paths that can never lead to the fulfillment, security, and joy God’s path provides both now and for eternity.

  • Donald Johnson

    Given that the original article mentioned inter-racial marriage, does anyone here think that it was a good thing that this was illegal in parts of the USA at one time?

    From where I sit, I think the best solution is for the government to get out of the marriage defining business, they simply do not have the right to do so and can be swayed by the current mob.

  • Charlton Connett


    Your arguments basically echo what Ted said was the only honest answer he ever received to his question. “We aren’t there yet.”

    Ted’s question (rephrased): “Why not allow marriages regardless of age?” Your response, “As long as there are statutory rape laws on the books, under age marriage would remain taboo.” But why not remove, or change, the ages of statutory rape laws? Effectively you have said, “We haven’t removed the laws against it yet.”

    The “as long as” does not argue for morality, it only says the current situation is what it is. The loss of moral arguments for a position is a death knell for that position.

    Q: “Why not allow marriages of near relatives?” A: “Birth defects.” But what if the couple is sterile? What if the couple agree to abort all pregnancies? (Yes, I know there are serious moral problems with that argument, but with abortion legal, and the reality of birth defects, it could be argued abortions, in this case, would be for medical purposes.) In essence, the “well there are birth defects” again is not a moral argument, it is a statement of “the way things are” that can be avoided by changing the situation (particularly through medical sterilization).

    Q: “Why not allow multiple marriages or polygamy?” A: “Well, there is no good moral reason to deny others religious expression.” Your answer fundamentally admits that the slippery slope is an accurate description of where advocates will go.

    Thank you, Denny, for sharing these illustrations. Hopefully this makes all of us more aware of how we need to stand up for marriage, and higher moral standards in general, in our society. When it comes to moral arguments, the slippery slope is not so much a logical fallacy as a reality that culture will have to address.

  • Denny Burk


    All comments are going through moderation queue right now, not just yours.

    Robert George has an article in a Harvard journal making a rigorous case for traditional marriage without appealing to religious authority:

    Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson, “What Is Marriage?,” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 34 (2010): 245-87.

    Here are the best arguments for the position. You ought to read it and interact with it.

    That being said, I will continue to make the biblical case for marriage. There is no valid reason to exclude religious opinion from the public debate, no matter how much secularists want us kept out of it.


  • John

    Donald (#7) – That “solution” just won’t work. Marriage boundaries include rights designed to protect the weak and/or innocent. The state is the only entity with the power to enforce these rights. If the government “gets out” of the marriage business, there will be no recourse for the young mother with three toddlers that some louse of a man abandoned. We have many possible routes going forward, but the government getting out of the marriage business doesn’t seem like realistic or just notion to me.

  • Charlton Connett


    I agree with you, though I do think Donald has a good point in that the government is too involved in marriage at the moment. If the government involvement was limited purely to protective activities, I think the argument for heterosexual marriage would be stronger. But, as long as there are extensive privileges associated with marriage (and there are over 1000 privileges associated with marriage in U.S. federal laws alone) then there will be those agitating for access to those privileges.

    I’m not saying the argument for gay marriage is strengthened by the existence of these privileges, only that it causes a level of contention. I think a return to a more traditional style of government, with a smaller federal involvement, would be beneficial to the argument for heterosexual marriage as it would be easier to argue that marriage exists for the purpose of strengthening society, not merely acquiring benefits others don’t have access to. After all, isn’t that the argument we keep hearing, that homosexuals are denied access to certain benefits heterosexuals enjoy in marriage?

  • Allie

    As marriage will continue to evolve into a meaning of everything, then it will soon mean nothing.

    Denny I will take your slippery slope one step further, and though I know I will be laughed at now, I will be glad to be held accountable to it 50 years or less from now.

    Peter Singer a renowned Ivy League ethicist and philosopher, has gone on the record advocating such ethics as infanticide. In addition though he very ardent in arguing against what he calls speciesism. Which simply means that animals deserve human rights also. Atheist Richard Dawkins is also sympathetic to these arguments.

    Our society has already moved more and more in a direction where people love their pets or animals more than human relationships or companionship. Now while I am not saying that beastiality will be the immediate consequence, I am willing to say that it will be only a matter of time before philosophers like Singer will begin to argue for the of people to marry their animals if they so choose.

    If Singer is right, then why arbitrarily restrict the “right” of marriage to just humans? What is it about marriage that will be left in tact that it will be outside the definition of the word to not apply it to any two mammals?

    As marriage is deconstructed to mean whatever people want it to be, I see no argument that will hold up in the coming century that will not allow it to be applied to animals and people.

    I cannot think of one evolutionary or secular argument that could say such behavior is inherently “wrong.”

  • Donald Johnson

    A government is the final arbiter for contract enforcement, so getting out of the marriage defining business would not mean that protection for the weak would cease.

    I see 2 basic choices, one is that the definition of marriage by government will continually be expanded as there will always be sad cases that are excluded when ever a definition line is drawn. Those cases get publicized and they sway people.

    The other is that marriage gets defined by each church/religion for itself and government gets out of the marriage defining business. I much prefer the latter situation.

  • Jason


    You have provided a false dichotomy AND placed these two in separate bubbles.

    Firstly, it is only rhetorical laziness and/or fear on the part of people who know better when the sample size of one is roundly refuted. Emotionally gullibility on the part of many consumers of media is not a reason to lay down and play dead, which has been the default setting of many who, as I said, know better.

    Secondly, do people engage in government? Are there people in “religion”? Are there some who inhabit both? Do these same people find some cultures and societies more appealing than others? Are not their reasons for this preference informed broadly or even completely by their view of both of these places that they inhabit? Do the religious vote? Do they engage in the political process? Are they to separate the two? Why should they necessitously be separated? Can you give any reason other than preference or vaguely waving in the direction of vague, unrestrained, unmediated secularism?

    In fact, your third paragraph is almost entirely incoherent; picture each person/group defining for themselves what is right in an ordered society, you cannot prefer such a notion unless you are a hard anarchist or just have not followed the matter to its logical conclusion.

  • Donald Johnson

    For the third paragraph, I see that at least the churches that believe in the Bible will be able to say what marriage is supposed to be and be a witness.

    As it is now, marriage has many priviledges and others want them, so they publicise sad cases that do not quite meet the current def. (whatever it might be) to expand the definition by the gov’t.

    But the gov’t does not really get to define what marriage is, God does. But not everyone accepts that in a pluralistic society.

  • Brent Hobbs

    Denny is absolutely right here. There’s no logical problem with the slippery slope argument in this case. Same-sex marriage proponents hate the argument and won’t engage it because it demonstrates their own position is based purely on emotional appeal.

  • John Thomson

    Denny is right because once the basic definition of marriage is jettisoned – one man and one woman together for life – then the new definition is simply at the whim of any cultural trend.

    The problem for conservative evangelicals (and I am one) is that we rail against homosexual marriage but in the meantime have become quite comfortable with divorce and remarriage both a denial of what marriage is.

  • Donald Johnson

    Divorce is not always a denial of what marriage is, sometimes it is a confirmation of it. A marriage is a covenant and when covenant vows are broken, an injured party can declare the covenant terminated.

  • Christianes


    I know that sometimes divorce is necessary . . . for example when a husband is abusive to his wife and to his children.

    But when the divorce rates of avowed Christian people approximate the divorce rates of the general culture, then there is a PERCEPTION that Christian people ‘point the finger’ at others, claim to promote ‘marriage’, AND have actually dropped the ball as far as cleaning up their own house.

    The stats speak against a Christian morality of marriage in practice . . . for the divorce rate speaks louder than all the rhetoric. While Christians decry the ‘slippery slope’, the divorce rate among Christians is climbing, not falling.

    We have homework to do. We need to walk the talk.

  • Donald Johnson

    Yes, the divorce rates of Christian are a concern, but I see them mainly as a SYMPTOM of the real problem. The real problem is not keeping marriage vows, that is where the sin is.

  • Jason


    It seems to me that you still aren’t following your own thoughts in the matter. Why would parents be responsible to children under the law? What would the legal buttress be against child abandonment if the “family” or even parenthood ceased to mean anything, i.e.: secular society decided that every child is as disposable as they currently see those who are aborted?

    You wrote –

    “But the gov’t does not really get to define what marriage is, God does. But not everyone accepts that in a pluralistic society.”

    So? Does that preclude the government acting in such a way so as to encourage the matter? And who cares what everyone accepts?

    “Yes, the divorce rates of Christian are a concern, but I see them mainly as a SYMPTOM of the real problem. The real problem is not keeping marriage vows, that is where the sin is.”

    AMEN. That is undoubtedly true, and you and I are in total agreement on that matter and, I suspect, many other matters.

    The issue as I see it is that the government exists to maintain order and establish peace; this is an eminently biblical notion. The familial and societal patterns would not at all be biblical, but is it entirely unreasonable to say that secular enforcement of one man and one woman, thereby discouraging everything else, is, in light of Romans 13, preferable to Christians entirely abandoning their cultural post?

  • Jonathan

    Dr. Burk,

    I agree with your conclusion, but I don’t know that I would call it a slippery slope argument. I’ve always understood slippery slope arguments as non-sequiturs, which are logically incoherent. In this instance, same sex marriage advocates are correct when they say that allowing gay marriage does not ENTAIL polygamy. The two issues are distinct in a legal sense. (However, allowing gay marriage does remove moral barriers for polygamy.)

    I prefer an approach that illustrates how allowing sex marriage completely dismantles the definition of marriage making it useless – much like Girgis, George, and Anderson. Polygamy, incest, etc. then become the effects of such a dismantling. Our argument against gay marriage, then, is not solely grounded in its effects but in its nature, i.e., its definition.

    I understand the that two approaches are similar, but I wonder if we (as adherents to the traditional definition of marriage) are giving up valuable ground by calling the argument a “slippery slope.” Plus, we can still point out that gay marriage removes all the barriers against other distortions of marriage, but that’s not where our argument stands or falls.

    Regardless, thank you for taking a stand on an issue that is essential for understanding relationships and families in a biblical sense.


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