Sunday, October 02, 2005

It Is Not a Slippery Slope Argument

I think this week’s Savage Love by Dan Savage is exquisite. You don’t get pro-gay marriage talking points/theory from any of the other major advice columnists. So if you’ve ever needed a pocket version of the counter-argument to the whole slippery slope/turtle nonsense, here you go:

I fully support gay rights and wrote a letter to the prime minister--I'm up in Canada--supporting gay marriage. But whenever I get into debates about the issue with right-wing acquaintances, they bring up "the thin edge of the wedge" and insist that gay marriage will lead to polygamy. This leaves me stymied.

I have no argument with adults who freely choose to enter into open relationships. My problem is with fundamentalist cults that indoctrinate their followers from birth and are building armies through the practice of one man having multiple young wives and many children. My feminist backbone shudders at the thought of these young women being bred and raised for the sole purpose of personal fiefdom building.

The argument goes: "If gays should be 'free' to marry, then why not 'religious freedom' for those who choose a polygamous lifestyle?" I'm curious to hear your opinion on this and am hoping you will supply me with an intelligent retort!

- Stymied In Canada

"Her interlocutors are wrong, wrong, wrong," says E. J. Graff, author of What Is Marriage For?, a terrific, informative, and entertaining book about gay marriage. "They're assuming that we homos are making a claim to marriage under the libertarian argument that everyone should be free to do as s/he wishes. Wrong. We are arguing that we already belong to the West's contemporary marriage philosophy--for capitalist and for feminist reasons."

Put your feet in the stirrups, lie back, and relax, SIC, because Graff is going to jam some steel into your shuddering feminist spine: "Once upon a time, the West had a 'traditional' marriage philosophy." The husband owned his wife, whatever children she bore him--you know the drill. But capitalism eventually came along--thank God!--and freed us from those confining sex roles. "Each of us now has to make a living independently, based on individual talents and efforts rather than traditional roles. Over time this led to gender equality in both the job market and the marriage market. Between 1850 and 1970, every developed country struck down its sex-based rules, both in labor (i.e., women can be plumbers and legislators) and in marriage (i.e., married women can own property, hold jobs without hubby's permission, have custody of children, and even--gasp!--say no in bed). The result: Gender equality is today's governing public philosophy, in marriage and in much else. For 150 years, courts and legislatures have changed marriage law to fit this philosophy, under which same-sex couples fit just fine." In other words, heterosexual marriage is not one man taking ownership over one woman, but two individuals, as equals, committing to each other. "The only sex-based restriction left in marriage law," Graff says, "lies in the entrance rules, where it no longer belongs."

Letting same-sex couples make the same gender-neutral commitment that opposite-sex couples make doesn't open the doors to polygamy. "Traditional polygamy grows from exactly the opposite [of gender equality]," says Graff. "One man owns many wombs and grows lots of household labor. That is precisely the opposite of gender equality and of individual-based capitalism. It violates all our contemporary notions of fairness and democracy. Polygamy would mean heading backward into marriage's feudal history; same-sex marriage moves us forward into its equal and democratic future." Now get off the table, SIC, and go argue with your right-wing acquaintances.

(E. J. Graff, currently the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center resident scholar, has a new book coming out this month, Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men--and What to Do About It, by Evelyn Murphy with E. J. Graff.)


BiggTree said...

Is too. Well written post, but you used a quote that is too weak. '"Traditional polygamy grows from exactly the opposite [of gender equality]," says Graff.' It isn't traditional polygamy that us ultra conservative right wing Christian fundamentalist nut-jobs are afraid us. That argument has been had and the polygamists lost. (Yes I know it still happens, but nobody likes it) Its the new-fangled polygamists, we (I) fear. If 17 consenting adults form a union of 6 men, 10 women and a duck. Its m00t if the duck and the gay men are equal partners with the straight women in the marriage. Its just flat out wrong and bad for society.

marie said...

Sadly though, neo cons are now pointing to a recent civil union in the Netherlands between 1 man and 2 women. Perhaps in some respect they are right about the slippery slope- though of course they exaggerate the extent and sharpness of the slope. Personally, I think it might be better for the government to get out of the marriage game altogether...