Apparently marriage is a big topic among four year olds in Pre-K. Nearly every other day my daughter comes home talking about who is going to marry whom. “Miles said he is going to marry Sophie.” “Gi-Gi said she wants to marry Noah, and that made Dephne mad because she wanted to marry Noah.” Yesterday she said, “Miles can marry Sophie, but he can’t marry Scottie, right? Because boys can’t marry boys. Only girls can marry boys. Right?”
My wife and I were in a heated debate with a friend of ours recently about the California ban on same sex marriage. He strongly supported it. His view is that by divinity it is wrong and it should be illegal. He said legalizing it is a slippery slope. If you legalize it, you lose the justification to prevent other transformations of traditional marriage in the future. I disagree. I think each church ought to decide for itself what kind of marriage it should sanction, but legally, same sex couples ought to be able to marry and be eligible for all the rights associated with heterosexual marriage.
I find the slippery slope arguments ugly and distasteful. They often suggest that if homosexuals are allowed to marry by law, what is to prevent people from wanting to marry children and dogs? He argued that there has to be a line across which society will not cross. If you do, it introduces moral relativism. Each subsequent group will find a reason to justify their socially specific group norms.
I argued that indeed there has to be a line, but the position of the line is the question. Surely the political, social and faith communities that opposed interracial marriages would have made the same arguments – that it is morally reprehensible and therefore ought to be illegal. Their opposition, rooted in scorn for black people, blinded them to the function and premise of marriage, love. So was the line that those opponents drew legitimate? Did it lead to a slippery slope? If homosexual couples love each other, then the strength of that love ought to be the justification for their marriage just as it is for heterosexual couples. That ought to be so regardless of the difficulty that heterosexual people have in comprehending the nature of their love.
He came back with the slippery slope part of the argument. He was not ridiculous with children and dogs, but raised an interesting question. Why do we object to polygamy? If three or four or five consenting, rational adults, who profess to love each other want to marry, why is that wrong? Why should they be prevented from marrying because we, in the monogamous community, don’t understand their love? He argued, and I agreed, that there would be nearly universal opposition in the United States to that arrangement of marriage. Even homosexual couples would probably object to polygamy. In sum, his argument was that the position of the line is arbitrary and in his mind it ought to be drawn to exclude homosexual couples.
I agreed that the line was arbitrary. The problem with recognizing that is the difficulty in deciding where to draw it and defending that decision. Why draw it on one side of same sex marriage and not the other? The opposition to polygamy is based on exactly the same argument as the opposition to same sex marriage. It runs counter to some moral standard and therefore ought to be illegal. In both cases, they do not involve minors or animals and do no harm to anyone involved or anyone else. More importantly, they are both based on the same premise, love and consent. Given that, what is the real objection to polygamy? Essentially, it crosses a line that we have drawn arbitrarily. There are some societies in the world that would likely draw the lines differently where polygamy might be acceptable, but same sex marriage absolutely objectionable. That suggests that there is no universal code of human or matrimonial decency that is determining where we draw our line.
The line is drawn arbitrarily. The disagreements in the faith communities, like in the Episcopalian Church, and in society, like in California, suggest that there isn’t a consensus on where it ought to be drawn. This brings me back to my first position. The church ought to decide for itself, but the law ought to be written in a manner that reduces discrimination in as many instances as possible. The church can discriminate arbitrarily as it does in determining who gets into heaven. The law, however, based in reason and not faith, cannot discriminate arbitrarily. At the moment same sex couples are clamoring for rights that are reserved for heterosexual couples that function in exactly the same manner as they do. They should be given those rights. Society will deal with the polygamists when they start to clamor.
For now, I was comfortable saying to my daughter that it isn’t necessarily true that only girls can marry boys.