In my exploration of the issue of gay marriage, I want to examine one of the salvos in the debate over gay marriage from those who oppose it: that to expand the definition from being one man one woman to being two people of any gender sets a precedent for further definition expanding later.
Those who defend gay marriage say, as KFI radio talk show host Bill Handel says, "Society draws a line!" For those who defend gay marriage, the concern that expanding the definition of marriage will set a precedent for further definition expanding later is "alarmist" aka absurd/paranoid/kooky. Here at this website with arguments in favor of gay marriage, the author posts this argument,
"Same-sex marriage would start us down a "slippery slope" towards legalized incest, bestial marriage, polygamy and all kinds of other horrible consequences."
And then rebuts it by saying this,
"A classic example of the reductio ad absurdum fallacy, it is calculated to create fear in the mind of anyone hearing the argument. It is, of course, absolutely without any merit based on experience. If the argument were true, wouldn't that have already happened in countries where forms of legalized gay marriage already exist? Wouldn't they have 'slid' towards legalized incest and bestial marriage? The reality is that a form of gay marriage has been legal in Scandinavian countries for over many years, and no such legalization has happened, nor has there been a clamor for it. It's a classic scare tactic - making the end scenario so scary and so horrible that the first step should never be taken. Such are the tactics of the fear and hatemongers.
If concern over the "slippery slope" were the real motive behind this argument, the advocate of this line of reasoning would be equally vocal about the fact that today, even as you read this, convicted murderers, child molesters, known pedophiles, drug pushers, pimps, black market arms dealers, etc., are quite free to marry, and are doing so. Where's the outrage? Of course there isn't any, and that lack of outrage betrays their real motives. This is an anti-gay issue and not a pro marriage issue."As for this person's argument about child molesters, drug pushers and murderers, our law recognizes a distinction between A) the person who is no longer practicing crime and has paid his debt to society and B) the person who is still committing crime. A person with an established "criminal orientation" belongs in extended or even permanent custody. Perhaps there should be prohibitions against marrying while in jail, but that's something to explore for a different day.
You may believe that expanding the definition of marriage may very well set a precedent for future definition expanding, and that it's OK if it does. What I'm interested in is merely this question. Is it being kooky and unnecessarily paranoid to believe that it will? The paranoid man isn’t always wrong. There are consequences of a having a worldview that appeals to moral intuition and the “emerging consensus” as so many advocates of gay marriage do.
The “emergent consensus” is the collectivized expression of an idea that moral truth is located in our instincts. Atheist thinkers like Sam Harris call this the natural endowment of “moral intuition”. Even for those advocates of gay marriage who are not atheists, the critical force of the movement comes from a worldview that assigns moral weight to a phenomenon of human opinion emergence.
Moral intuition works as a moral “calculus of instinct”: a certain confluence of altruistic instinct, sexual instinct, survival instinct, etc… that rises to the surface at any one time in the life of a person as a “way that makes sense”. This “calculus of instinct" is a “bottom up” moral system that looks to nature as its ultimate author, as nature expresses itself rising up from the well of our instincts.
Those who look to “moral intuition” do not completely trust the instinct calculus of any one particular person -- as the street postmodernist says “Who’s to say?” What they do trust is that cross of section of “a way that makes sense” that is believed by a critical mass of people at any one snap shot of time. It is the emergent consensus expressed as a snap shot of collectivized moral intuition that is esteemed as “times” – the manifest instinct wisdom of the day. With this comes a certain narrative of progress: that the unfolding wisdom of nature is the process of hitherto repressed instincts coming out from under repression. As hidden instincts come out from under repression, humans are lead into the wisdom of their accidental creation.
In order to facilitate this unfolding of hitherto repressed instincts, instincts that repress instincts must be repressed. Instincts are thus divided into A) the instincts that are seen as being able to co-exist in the realm of other instincts B) those instincts that will result in a less maximized diversity of instinct experiences. Those who value the narrative of ever unfolding instinct experience see it as an act of spreading diversity to maximize instinct experience by suppressing the “bad instincts”.
Since there are certain thoughts, expressions and behaviors that are seen as being linked to the “bad instincts”, suppressing these expressions and behaviors with the force of law and taboo is seen as necessary to promote diversity. The desire to express oneself sexually in any manner is generally considered a “good instinct”. Believing in a transcendent moral order in regard to sexuality is considered to be a belief that emanates from bad and regressive, fear based instinct.
The “times” represent a particular increment of progress in the realm of instinct expression over “times previous”, and any opinion on instinct expression that is not considered to be up with the “times” is considered regressive. Social evolution is the advancement of “good” instinct experience and the receding of “bad” instinct experience. Emergent instincts are treated with special priority as they are expressed by new trends, new artists, and youth. By the force of taboo, and by the force of law when possible, these “instinct underdogs” are given “expression privileges” against the “dominant” system.
Even those who are “instinct followers” have a hierarchy of instincts that results in them suppressing certain instincts. A heavy dose of instinct suppression is characteristic of any moral system. That which separates the instincts we value and those we don't is our “values paradigm". Unless we are very conscious in the personal construction of our own values paradigms and meta-values paradigms, we will absorb the values paradigm of the culture around us as a certain cultural hypnosis, allowing certain instincts to be expressed and suppressing other instincts without fully knowing it. When the culture’s value paradigm changes we will change with it, and will not remember completely what it was like to have operated in a different paradigm.
There are those in 2008 who, like Bill Handel, are certain that society will always draw the line separating marriages of two people from more than two. Operating with a moral distinction between two person marriages and marriages among more than two people is values paradigm that makes sense to many people who appeal to the emergent consensus and “moral intuition” as a reason to make gay marriage legal. They are convinced that a particular values paradigm of 2008 is a self evident conclusion of moral intuition that will last the ages, and that it is alarmist to suggest that expanding the definition will set a precedent for future definition expanding.
The problem is that the worldview that makes gay marriage OK now is largely based on a “meta” values paradigm of instinct following and instinct progress. While many may hold that there is a line between two person marriage and more-than-two-person marriage as a particular values paradigm, they hold a meta values paradigm that allows for the constant tectonic shift of values paradigms. It is a meta-paradigm that has and will continue to facilitate values paradigm shifts along the vector of “progress” to bring more instinct expression into the fold of normalcy.
To say that societies in 2008 that current have legalized gay marriage do not also have legalized multi-person marriage is to simply say that there is not a critical mass of people ready to give way to a new instinct expression. When enough people are ready to normalize a greater palette of instinct experience with the force of law, broadening the definition of marriage will be the new emerging consensus.
I think that expanding the definition to include polygamy and polyandry and increased normalizing and expression of gay and bisexual behavior is ahead “ahead of what comes next”. From the perspective of those who hold to instincts as the key to moral wisdom, my opinion is a regressive opinion rising from the stinky swamp of bad, backward and bigoted instincts. But my opinion is drawn from the observing the “envelope pushing” of our sexual culture already fully underway in 2008 that is occurring as an expression of a worldview that holds that any sexual distinction that puts one expression in a hierarchy of meaning or value above another is fundamentally bigoted. This worldview has a narrative that society needs to evolve incrementally towards “superflat” sexual expression as the expungement of any significant moral distinction between one sexual behavior over another. It is from this goal of having superflat sexual expression that a society is measured according to its progress, with societies with more flattened sexual hierarchies being farther along.