Self-Serving Slippery Slopes

Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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75 Responses

  1. RTod says:

    My experience in observing the slippery slope argument has lead me to believe that it is never used as part of a rational chain of thought when looking for an appropriate answer to a difficult question.

    Rather, it seems to be always used as a justification for an already firmly held belief.Report

    • Aaron in reply to RTod says:

      The reason that the “slippery slope” is fallacious is not because it cannot occur, but because it can be applied to every argument. Of itself, it’s in no way predictive.Report

  2. gregiank says:

    I almost never see good examples of the slippery slope in the wild. Usually the SS is used to ramp up fear for some otherwise neutral thing or to justify opposition where there is no other reason. SS is sloppy thinking usually. Things rarely ever lead directly where people think they will and there almost always multiple choice points with multiple options along any chain of events.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    People who believe that marriage is the business of the government instead of the business of God are analogous to Nazis.

    Anyway, don’t use Adam/Eve as the background for incest when it comes to YECs. There are a handful of stories in the Aggadah that refer to others who happened to be around at that time.

    Use Noah. Those 8 folks were the *ONLY* 8 folks left on the planet.Report

  4. Chris says:

    My view of the slippery slope is that it is not always, but almost always, a tacit admission of defeat. It says, “I can’t defeat your position directly, therefore I will argue against a position that I can defeat, and associate it via a hypothetical [usually opaque] causal chain with the position I can’t find a way to attack.” In some cases, there really is a direct and unavoidable causal connection between one position and another, much worse one, which makes the worse position a flaw of the original one, and therefore a slippery slope argument is actually required, but in most cases, it’s just giving up on arguing the point and instead arguing another.

    In the case of gay marriage, legalized incest is not an obvious consequence of gay marriage’s legalization. Granted, some will use the legalization of gay marriage to argue for the legalization of incest (or bestiality, or bigamy, or whatever their kink might be), but it will take more than simply pointing out that gay marriage is legal to legalize those things, not the least of which is saying what the hell legalized gay marriage has to do with incest or bigamy or whatever. So it’s not an inherent flaw in gay marriage that other things might be legalized down the line using gay marriage as (one of) the arguments in favor of legalization. Therefore, when someone argues against gay marriage with a slippery slope to the legalization of something else, they are essentially giving up.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

      As someone who has argued for civil marriage protections between parents and children, I’d like to point out that those folks out there who do see such legal fictions as reasonable outcomes of the whole “gay marriage” thing.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I actually have no problem with legalized bigamy, and I’m not worried about incestuous relationships between consenting adults either (the evidence that genetic defects are significantly more likely seems to be pretty slim), but I’m not sure how either of these things follow from gay marriage. It could be argued, I suppose, that by changing who can marry whom, as in the case of gay marriage, one has opened the door to other changes, but a.) bigamy isn’t really a change, since it’s been pretty common through much of history, and the same, to a lesser degree, can be said of incest, at least between cousins, and b.) “different from the way things are now” is a pretty abstract similarity, and seems a rather weak one for legal purposes. If, for example, we were to legalize marijuana, could someone then say that, because it is now legal to give someone marijuana in a brownie, it is also legal to give them (with their consent) arsenic in a brownie (assuming they know you’re doing it)? Legalized marijuana is different from the way things are, and so would be legalized arsenic, so if giving someone one of those is legal, why isn’t giving someone the other legal? I know, I know, analogies and all that, but you get the point: just because one thing changes the status quo does not mean other things that change the status quo are OK. What’s more, if we change the status quo because it turns out that the status quo discriminates against some group (say, LGBTs) for no rational reason (e.g., there is no harm in gay people marrying each other), then for the slippery slope to work, it would also have to be shown that there is no rational reason to discriminate against the other groups. In other words, the status quo is wrong on the case of gay marriage, and if we change the status quo for gay marriage, then in order for others to argue that we should change it for bigamy or incest, they would have to argue that the status quo is also wrong, because there is no rational reason to discriminate against those behaviors (e.g., they don’t cause any harm either).

        Point being, while slippery slopes almost never work against a position, because they don’t argue against any flaws in the position itself, they can, on occasion, actually argue for the position, because they show that the wrongness of the counter position is actually much worse than its merely opposing the current position under debate: in fact, it opposes all sorts of other positions that it is wrong to oppose.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

          Part of the problem is that since I have argued for civil marriage protections for folks who are related to each other (on this very blog, even!), I know that I’m not likely to change my mind on such things even if SSM gets established in the US. If the topic comes up, I’ll make my arguments again.

          I have argued for the legalization of medicinal marijuana… and now I argue for the legalization of recreational. If recreational becomes legal, I’ll probably argue for the legalization of LSD and X.

          So on and so forth.

          Some slopes are slippery. If you don’t want to get to the bottom of the hill, it does make sense to argue that we ought not move at all.Report

          • Jaybord, for the record, I have long argued the same for civil marriages between family members. It makes a lot of sense.Report

          • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

            Like I said, sometimes one thing follows inherently from another. In that case, it’s not so much a slippery slope as an actual causal chain. In most cases, in fact, in every case that I’ve ever encountered, slippery slope arguments don’t argue that there is an inherent causal link between the top of the slope and the bottom (there is, for example, nothing inherent in same sex marriage that will cause the legalization of incestuous marriages), but always involve a mediator, something about the legal system, say, or the behavior of people independent of the top of the slope.

            Again, if x is legalized because x is harmless and the only reason to discriminate against it is because certain people are biased against x, then the only reason to legalize other things because x has become legal is because those things are also harmless, and the only reason to discriminate against them is because certain people are biased against them. If bigamy is harmless (and it’s not obvious that it is), or if incest is harmless (and again, it’s not obvious that it is), then there’s no more reason for outlawing them than there is for outlawing same sex marriage. If that’s the case, we don’t so much have a slippery slope than a just outcome that makes other just outcomes more likely.Report

            • Chris – wouldn’t you say that they are talking about a slippery slope in the legal sense? Or in the social norms sense? Think about the latter. Gay mariage got accepted by Hollywood, then there became a large enough core of supporters in mainstream America, then it starts gaining legal recognition. Polygamy could follow that same path. Maybe that’s more of a roadmap than a slippery slope.Report

  5. JohnR says:

    It’s all (willfully) ‘blind men and the elephant’ arguing: “Marriage is an arrangement regulated by God!” “Marriage is an arrangement regulated by the State!” “Marriage is a business arrangement!” “Marriage is a social/political arrangement!” “Marriage is peanut butter!” “Marriage is chocolate!”. It’s like the claim about religion – put 3 people in a room and soon you have 4 religions, 11 sects, 8 schisms and innumerable Holy Wars. Only God knows why humans have to take a simple idea and over-complicate it past all understanding. And at the same time, these same people will take a relatively complicated idea like ‘culture’ and try to fit it to Procrustes’ bed using “one-size-fits-all” arguments. Why are we so determined to be fools? Personally, I think God has an under-appreciated (and rather painful) sense of humor. Maybe Loki is the real God.Report

  6. Question: Does the term ‘slippery slope’ only apply to bad things? For example, what if I said the rise of the internet was likely to cause physical libraries to close en masse at some point. It’s not necessarily a bad thing assuming that the internet becomes so pervasive that everyone can access it and all books are digitized.

    The reason i am asking is that often ‘slippery slope’ arguments are really about someone trying to think a decision through to its logical conclusions. It’s the whole pebble-in-a-pond thing where every decision has rippling consequences. Maybe gay marriage won’t lead to incest or polygamy, or maybe it will. Can we say there has been an honest debate between both the opposition and the supporters about what happens next? Regardless of your affiliations one has to admit that gay marriage is a HUGE change in our social norms. It seems pretty responsible to think it through and not just run forward with our hearts on our sleeves because gay people are sad.Report

    • Regardless of your affiliations one has to admit that gay marriage is a HUGE change in our social norms

      I disagree. This rests on the false premise that marriage has more or less been constant for the last several thouand years, it hasn’t. The modern conception of marriage as based on romantic love between two adult heterosexuals, neither gender being ‘in charge’, is a realtively new concept, esp. when it is coupled with the wholesale rejection of parental approval or arrangement. Older concepts such as polygamy or simply women as property were around for a very long time and getting rid of them was a big deal, but because we are very ignorant of history its easy to forget this and pretend that marriage in, say, ancient Rome or even Medieval Europe was more or less like it is now but just with period costumes.

      In many ways SSM is not a major shift in marriage. I’ll list a few of the reasons why:

      1. Population wise we are talking about not even 2.5% of marriages at best (I’m assuming 5% of the pop. being gay and half of them opting for marriage if it was legal). So in terms of # of marriages, the impact is pretty small compared to, say, not viewing women as property which impacted nearly all marriages in ages gone by.

      2. The larger shift was not SSM but the ditching of gender roles in marriage. There was a time not too long ago when the question of SSM would be countered with “well whose the ‘man’ in a woman-woman marriage?” . It wouldn’t have been an ignorant question because the law did in fact specify different duties and responsibilities for husbands and wives. Introducing the idea of SSM back then would have required either making the roles in marriage gender neutral OR finding a way to make SSM couples specify who would play the husband and who would play the wife. The real “HUGE change” came when gender roles were ditched by our culture. This was a bit of a stealth revolution, though, because we too easily ‘retconn’ our perception of the past to pretend marriage then was just like marriage today. It simply wasn’t. Also the important of gender roles in law slowly diminished like a glacier melting away.Report

      • I think if you have to cite thousands of years of history you might be reaching. I think a more honest look is the last 100 years. Viewed in that period alone it IS a very big deal. And with changing gender roles, this was a slow progression, not an overnight change. There was no law passed by Congress which declared women no longer had to stay in the kitchen. With gay marriage we have had states where on Monday you couldn’t marry someone of the same gender and on Wednesday you could. That is HUGE.Report

        • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          The same thing happened with loving v. Virginia

          Mixed couples couldn’t marry the day before, they could after.Report

          • And in parts of the South that was a HUGE thing – wouldn’t you agree?Report

            • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              A huge thing that needed to be done. As you may have noticed the world got better due to that huge change.

              Just like it will do when SSM becomes legal.Report

              • I never said it wasn’t necessary – I was simply arguing that it was a big turning point. Gay marriage is no different. To try and minimalize it as a minor change in our social norms is disingenious.Report

              • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Other than metaphorical exploding heads of bigots and a small number of married gay couples and their children having better lives name one thing that would change.Report

              • I’m gonig to let Chris Weigant make my argument for me here:

                “Because it would not be limited to just gay marriage. That’s the first and most visible place the impact would be felt, of course. If the Supreme Court rules that gay marriage is a constitutional right, then that instantly means that all the anti-gay-marriage “one man and one woman” laws would cease to be valid law. Every state law on the books (whether enacted by referenda or by legislative process or by state court decision) that prevented gays from being married would immediately be null and void. Gays would have the right to be married in all 50 states, period.

                This would, obviously, be good news for gay people wanting to be married. But the good news would not end there. Far from it. Because if the Supreme Court upholds the Perry v. Schwarzenegger decision, it would mean that being gay — or being any sexual orientation whatsoever — would now be a constitutionally “protected class,” which is a very big deal indeed.”


        • Well first many who carp about it being a radical change often follow that by saying its never been done in all of human history….they seem to have a mindset of thousands of years rather than decades or a hundred years.

          Even in the last 100 I’m not sure its that big a deal. I recall seeing TV shows set even in the 70’s where the mean husband cleans out the wife’s bank account simply by walking in the bank and saying he’s her husband…even though he’s not on the account.

          I think its an example where people have a lot of emotional investment for a relatively small issue. In this it is like interracial marriage. Interracial marriage was huge, it was major, it was a defining issue of the South etc etc. But then the prohibitions were swept away and a trickle of marriages were interracial. Aside from some TV movies and being an occassional Phil Donahue topic, it didn’t really impact many people in their day to day marriages or lives.

          Likewise the main argument against SSM is that gender roles are highly important to marriage, yet few people who make this argument seem to really care about this concept being reflected in the law. In fact, many don’t even care to reflect this in their personal lives. There was a time, for example, where a person who honestly believed married women should NOT work outside the home could find friends in the Republican Party. Now they can only serve in the GOP as a Sarah Palin punching bag.Report

        • Bucky in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          It is true that Congress didn’t pass a law that stated that as of some specific date women were suddenly allowed out of the kitchen.

          However, there were in fact many hundreds of laws at both the state and federal levels that had to be changed in the move toward equality for women in society at large and marriage in particular. These changes were largely initiated by court action.

          In the not too distant past women weren’t allowed to own property in their own name: real estate, stocks, bonds, etc. Women weren’t allowed to have checking/savings accounts in their own name. In some states, women needed their husband’s/father’s permission to work outside of the home. Women had limited legal recourse to divorce and child custody.

          So while no single law was changed to allow women out of the kitchen, as far as the law was concerned if they left the kitchen they didn’t have any options. And in every instance of a change in the law, one day they didn’t have a specific right and the next they did. That is just how these things work.

          Also don’t forget that marriage equality is just another step in the decades long march to civil equality for gays and lesbians.Report

    • I don’t think it does Mike but it’s called by a different name when it’s for positive things. When arguing for something proponents eagerly fold every conceivable benefit into their main argument (deposing Saddam could set off a chain of liberalizing governments across the middle east for instance) so rather than slipping down the slope you end up embracing and running down it.

      I’d say that we can definitely think that there’s been an honest debate on the subject of the slippery slopes of SSM. Or at least as honest as is possible considering the wildly speculative nature of the slippery slope in question and the biased and combative characteristics of both sides. I mean we’re talking about a slope that has no testable basis here beyond the fevered imaginings of the social right. We’re also talking about just about the only argument against SSM that its opponents have left; one that’s been wheeled out over the smoking wreckage of all their more substantive and demolished assertions and it survives primarily because its speculative and insubstantial nature makes it irrefutable.
      I mean what data would convince you that the slippery slope concern on SSM was baseless? I’m drawing a blank myself.

      Then on the other side of the ledger we have very concrete and measurable problems that SSM would undoubtedly and demonstrably solve. So you have SSM being a concrete solution to many clear cut issues on one hand and on the other hand naught but the slippery slope argument on the other. Couple that with the fact that social conservatives don’t have an alternative to offer other than “marry a woman or just vanish if you don’t mind.” and it’s no wonder the electorate is shifting so swiftly.

      I mean I understand that running forward with our hearts on our sleeve is only something we should do as a society when heterosexual couples are sad (no fault divorce, contraception, marriage for love etc…); but what exactly constitutes sufficient thinking through? And when so many of the people and organizations arguing against this change (though not all) consider the sorry of homosexuals a feature rather than a bug of the current situation how can one tell if the discussion is being had in good faith?Report

      • North – how many pro-gay marriage arguments have been built on the back of the civil rights movement? Or Loving? This seems to imply gay marriage supporters see a relationship. Why is it then ludicrous to assume that polygamists will see the same thing when gay marriage becomes increasingly common?Report

        • Mike – some have. But an important point is that even if you set aside all the arguments in favor of SSM that were built on the back of Living and the civil rights movement you are still left with enormous numbers of arguments in favor of SSM.

          Take away the slippery slope argument and what does Maggie Gallagher have left to talk about? Only either patently false arguments (churches will be forced to marry gays), naked religious appeals or dark allusions to sinister motives (your children will be taught that gays are okay et all).Report

        • Also Mike, I just fail to see the polygamist parallel. I suppose if I bought into the social right line that homosexuality is something you do, not something you are then it’d probably make more sense. Of course I don’t. So in my mind polygamy (something you do) is not the same as homosexuality (something you are).

          Also, if SSM slippery slopes down to polygamy then where the heck are all the polygamist advocacy groups? Where’s the surge of support for polygamy? Support of gay rights has tipped the halfway mark? Is there any commensurate support for polygamy?Report

          • I think a lot of people could successfully argue they are not pre-disposed to monogamy.

            As for where the polygamy activism is – think about why they would wait. If they jump on board now they hurt the case for redefinition of marriage being waged by SSM supporters because people will say, “We told you!” and SSM support will falter. If they wait they just build on the work already done.Report

            • “I think a lot of people could successfully argue they are not pre-disposed to monogamy. ”

              1. That’s not much of a legal argument for polygamy.

              2. It’s also irrelevant to SSM. If not being ‘pre-disposed to monogamy’ is some type of protected class then that alone is an argument for polygamy that has nothing to do with SSM.

              3. Marriage law itself doesn’t actually require monogamy. You can say its ‘optimized for those predisposed to monogamy’ but there’s no requirement that those getting married be or intend to be monogamous. In contrast, a man trying to marry another man cannot do so if his state doesn’ thave SSM.Report

        • Note here that the ‘slipery slope’ applies to the argument, not the thing. The arguments behind Loving may or may not support SSM. Likewise those arguments may or may not support polygamy. It depends on the argument.

          So far none of the legal arguments seem to work that way. Some of the non-legal arguments (people should do whatever they want and libertarian takes on marriage law) do appear to ‘work’ for polygamy but most people who argue for SSM are using arguments that are not very good for polygamy.Report

  7. RTod says:

    “The reason i am asking is that often ‘slippery slope’ arguments are really about someone trying to think a decision through to its logical conclusions. ”

    I’m not so sure I agree. When, for example, I hear the “if two women are allowed to mary than soon bestiality will be allowed” it strikes me as neither logical nor well thought out. (Not a big fan of Bill Maher, but giving credit where it’s due on the SMM to bestiality slippery slope: “Women won the fight for suffrage, but you don’t see hamsters getting the right to vote.”)

    The problem with slippery slope arguments in practice rather than theory is the entire purpose of them is to take potential futures that are both so absurd and loathed and present them as the only natural outcome of more benign factors.

    To take a recent example in my home town where the slope has oft been used: If you’re someone who thinks that phonics is the only single way that all children should be allowed to be taught to read, fine – make a compelling argument as to why we should shape public policy that way. But don’t say that if we don’t use a phonics-only system soon children will stop receiving grades and be told that it’s OK to think that 2+2=5. Because that’s not thinking about the logical outcome of things, that’s just abandoning reason for knee-jerk troop rallying.Report

    • “The problem with slippery slope arguments in practice rather than theory is the entire purpose of them is to take potential futures that are both so absurd and loathed and present them as the only natural outcome of more benign factors.”

      No necessarily. While I would argue that beastiality falls under the absurd, I think there’s a lot more logic behind the claim that polygamy might be next. That’s a legitimate slippery slope argument/question that I don’t think has been well-debated.Report

      • Why would polygamy ‘be next’? Fundamentalist Mormons today and Mormons long ago argued for polygamy without ever thinking they needed to make SSM legal first. Seems to me the two issues are disconnected for most of the arguments for SSM. Likewise today there are societies with polygamy who would never think of allowing SSM (Saudi Arabia).

        I think you have to address the slippery slope based on the *arguments*, not on the result. SSM may or may not lead to polygamy or biestality based on the arguments used for it, not simply on SSM being there.Report

      • RTod in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        But why does it have to be debated, as it isn’t relevant?

        One might have argued 50 years ago that state laws that made interracial laws were right and proper, because if you let the colored’s marry the whites then the next thing that happens is gays will want to marry. And I’m sure many did. But regardless of what you think of SSM it was just a lame ass excuse to keep the races apart.

        Laws and public policy are not akin to rolling a boulder down a mountainside, where you push and then just hope everything turns out ok. If polygamy or bestiality are really your issues than fine – when those come up for a vote we can discuss. But I’m not buying the argument that “I’m really OK with SSM, it’s just that appeasing them will rile up the Mormons” argument.Report

        • Boonton in reply to RTod says:

          Keep in mind 50+ years ago there were laws premised on treating white and blacks differently. Prohibiting mixed marriages, therefore, was needed to preserve those laws otherwise you arrive at a state of confusion not knowing what race a person belong too.

          When the legitimacy of Jim Crow laws was intellectually challenged, the interracial marriage ban suddenly went from being a logical consquence to an anarchonism. It had emotional attachment for some people for reasons more about nostalgia than logic. Yea people made a big deal about it at the time, people also make a big deal about the ‘last drive in movie theatre’ closing….that doesn’t change the fact that drive ins ceased to be viable long ago. I would say that when gender based roles were rejected in law the ban on SSM likewise became unviable.Report

          • The key difference between interacial marriage and gay marriage is that in the former you had a violation of a protected class’ rights. This doesn’t currently exist with gay marriage. If the argument is made that mariage must change for non-protected classes, the door is open to claims of discrimination. In addition you have thousands of pre-existing polygamist families with their beliefs rooted in religion (again – a protected class).Report

            • All well and good if you’re talking about judicially imposed SSM but how does any of this work for legislatively enacted SSM?Report

            • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              Can you tell me why a group that faces beatings, killings, bullying to the point of suicide, firings, and being kicked out of their home by their parents isn’t discriminated against enough to qualify for protected class status?Report

              • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                After the catfsish institute they stopped taking my calls. Happily I can discuss things with people in blog comment threads.Report

              • Pirate Guy, I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t be a protected class. You might be assuming I don’t want them to be because I’m arguing for a sort of social domino possibility after gay mariage – but you’ll note that nowhere in these comments did I say I oppose gay marriage. So I can’t tell you why it shouldn’t be a protected class. But I also can’t tell you why polygamists shouldn’t be protected either.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

                Can you tell me why a group that faces beatings, killings, bullying to the point of suicide, firings, and being kicked out of their home by their parents isn’t discriminated against enough to qualify for protected class status?

                “If we don’t keep beating, killing, firing, bullying, and goading them into suicide, then we will be on a slippery slope toward something much worse.”

                “Like what?”

                “Like not beating, killing, firing, bullying, and goading them into suicide.”Report

            • Actually interracial marriage was struck down because it violated a suspect category, not a ‘protected class’. The ban violated the rights of whites as well of blacks. In fact, from the POV of ‘protected classes’ striking down the interracial ban was problematic for the same reason Jim Crow found the ban essential, if you blur the lines and make it hard to tell who is or isn’t part of the ‘protected class’ then you make it difficult to follow the law.

              Likewise SSM works from a legal POV because gender discrimination is a suspect class by gov’t (not as strong as race but suspect in the sense that gov’t has to justify treating people differently only on account of their gender). What category would apply to polygamists? The laws against polygamy are not based on gender, race or religion or ethnicity. I’ve yet to hear a slipperly slope to polygamy argument that articulated how exactly such a legal argument would work. The ones I’ve seen appear based on a premise that the SSM legal argument is only about someone whining “I’m being discriminated against” thereby making anyone who whines about discrimination entitled to altering the law. The actual arguments over SSM have more to them than that.Report

              • Boonton in reply to Boonton says:

                Note that you can rewrite the interracial marriage ban to not reference any ‘protected classes’. You can simply have a law that makes it a crime for any white person to marry a non-white person but say nothing about blacks or other non-whites. Since no ‘protected person’ is harmed this type of law would seem to be ok but it still fails the Constitutional test.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Boonton says:

                Indeed. Mildred Loving was half African-American, half Native American.Report

              • Boonton in reply to Boonton says:

                Another reason, the argument against SSM is based on gender. Legally there are no laws prohibiting gays from getting married. A gay man can walk into a Texas courthouse and say he wants to marry a woman. He cannot say he wants to marry a man but a straight man is likewise prohibited from marrying a man.Report

              • So why not challenge the law on the basis of numerical discrimination? And it’s certainly hard to defend monogamy with divorce being so easy to acquire.Report

              • “numerical discrimination” is certainly a pretty novel claim legally. I don’t think it would work and it has absolutely zero case law behind it.

                It’s also pretty shakey compared to other ‘suspect categories’. Gender and race are inherited traits. Religion is techincally a voluntary belief but its something very closely held to an individual. “Numerical rank”, though, doesn’t strike me as much of an inherited trait. Being #3 in line, for example, depends on two other people being #1 and #2. I don’t need someone to be a woman for me to be a man nor do I need someone to be black for me to be white.

                And it has nothing to so with SSM. Say you could come up with some excellent legal argument against “numerical discrimination”. You could use that to argue for polygamy. Why would you need SSM to come first? It would seem if “numerical discrimination” is a viable legal concept (it isn’t but let’s pretend it is), then you can have polygamy whether or not you have SSM.Report

  8. Boonton says:

    The slippery slope does not apply to the thing itself but the argument for the thing.

    Here’s a classic law school example:

    “Free speech should be absolute”
    “What about falsely yelling fire in a crowded building”
    “Well, errrr no…”

    Slippery slope, if a speech restriction should be dropped because ‘free speech is absolute’ then all speech restrictions should be dropped.

    Some arguments for SSM therefore can be attacked as being on a slippery slop:

    “If two people say they love each other, they should be allowed to marry”
    “The gov’t should just let whoever wants to marry marry”
    “Anything and everything should go!”

    If you’re supporting SSM based on these arguments, then you do indeed have a slippery slope towards incest and other things. And IMO since many on the right spend a great deal of effort securing themselves in an echo chamber, they are able to pretend the above (esp. the last) are the main and only arguments for gay marriage. But again this isn’t an argument against SSM but an argument against certain arguments for SSM.

    Andrew Sullivan, for example, has argued for SSM on the grounds that it stregthens families. It limits shame heterosexual marriages. It provides an institution of lifetime legal commitment between two people who already share an emotional bond. Whatever you may think of this argument, it would not apply very well to incestuous marriages since they would likely undermine families (how would a mother treat her daughter knowing she can legally grow into competition for her husband? how would fathers bond with their daughters if such bonding could lead wives and others to suspect it had something other than pure parental motivations behind it?)Report

    • RTod in reply to Boonton says:

      Yeah, that sounds all well and good, and though I can’t see what’s inside someone else’s head somehow I think those giving the SSM slip-slope argument aren’t just debating the finer point of a single line of faulty reasoning from the other side.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Boonton says:

      I think this is one of the more useful ways of thinking about slippery slope arguments that I’ve seen. In this sense, the “self-serving slippery slope” that Jonathan identifies here is essentially just another form of the straw man argument, while other forms of the slippery slope argument continue to have some legitimacy to them.Report

    • Chris in reply to Boonton says:

      The reason that slippery slope arguments are fallacious is for precisely this reason: they don’t argue the thing. They argue something else, in lieu of the thing, and the argue that something else is inevitable as a result of the thing. Like I said earlier, slippery slope arguments are tacit admissions of defeat.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Chris says:

        Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I think Boonton’s point is that slippery slope arguments can be useful and relevant and can argue the thing, but that they often do not. So it’s not that they’re inherently fallacious, just that they often are. If it points out how a given rationale would suffice to justify something else that both parties to the discussion presumably believe is unjustifiable, then the slippery slope claim is a useful tool for undermining the specific argument to which it is addressed, or for clarifying how far the other party to the argument is willing to take things. The trouble is that the slippery slope claim is often used as if the target argument is the only argument for the opposed policy.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Chris says:

        It’s been my experience that “slippery slope” is more often used as a denial of a valid argument than it is properly identified. That is, people don’t understand what the term means, and think that “a hypothetical series of consequences with which I disagree” is the same thing as “slippery slope”.Report

    • Chris in reply to Boonton says:

      By the way, the argument is never simply, “Two consenting adults should be able to marry because they love each other.” That may be all the arguer ever says, but implicit in this are several other premises, not the least of which is that their marriage, or at least the class of marriage, will not be harmful to others (I can think of plenty of heterosexual marriages that are harmful to others). So, the counterargument has to address these premises, even if they’re left unspoken. One can easily come up with potential arguments (I’m not saying they’re actually valid) against, say, incest, by pointing out that incestuous relationships are harmful to the children they produce, or to society in general (just ask the Egyptians, eh?). The same kinds of arguments could be made against bigamy: there is evidence, for example, that it is harmful to the women involved, and it might (I’m not saying it is) be harmful to the children involved as well.
      The point being that, in the case of same sex marriage, the top of the slope and the bottom of the slope are only connected in a relevant way if the two are alike on all of the relevant dimensions, and the slippery slope arguers never seem to get that far, because while it’s trivial to say that gay couples, incestuous couples, and bigamists love each other in similar ways, it’s nontrivial to say that everything else about the couples, and their affects on those around them, is the same.Report

      • Boonton in reply to Chris says:

        “By the way, the argument is never simply, “Two consenting adults should be able to marry because they love each other.” That may be all the arguer ever says, but implicit in this are several other premises, ”

        Well to be fair some libertarian minded people do argue things like the gov’t should simply have no limits on marriage or should turn marriage into some type of set of ‘default contracts’ that people could coble together into whatever arrangements they want. It is fair to argue that this would end up allowing both incestuous and polygamous marriage type arrangements. It is fair to confront the libertarian with this and make him admit that yes indeed his policy may mean a 21 yr old daughter and her father may end up ‘marrying’.Report

        • Since sex has been taken out of the equation I don’t see your example as legally problematic. As Jaybird referenced, civil marriages between any two (or more?) consenting adults is a pretty good idea.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Boonton says:

          It’s fair to argue that this could/would lead to incestuous marriages, it’s not fair to argue that it’d lead to polygamous ones.

          All of our existing legal templates in this country assume no more than one spouse in a couple. For Social Security, taxation, Medicare/Medicaid, unemployment, so on and so forth.

          While this obstacle is certainly surmountable, it’s an *ENTIRELY* different obstacle than the one provided by SSM.Report

  9. Jon Rowe says:

    I’ve been enjoying these comments y’all. (If you need the feedback.)Report

  10. DensityDuck says:

    I’m looking forward to the end result of all this, where for legal insurance-coverage reasons we are required to marry our boss.Report

  11. Boonton says:

    In this debate I think what tends to happen is that supporters of SSM get caught up in a trap of trying to argue that polygamous marriage simply cannot happen. What has to be kept in mind is that this is a distraction over SSM.

    On could come up with all types of arguments for polygamy, some of them might even be viable. I don’t think that a claim that ‘numerical discrimination is unconstitutional’ has much legal merit but that really has nothing to do with SSM. Maybe some really bright Mormon fundamentalist lawyer can find a way to make that argument fly. He doesn’t need SSM to do it and arguing for SSM doesn’t mean I have to refute all future hypothetical arguments. The argument should only be do the actual legal and other arguments for SSM lead to polygamy, incest or any other bad result and if so exactly how do they do it. Being that the primary legal argument for SSM is based on gender discrimination, I don’t see any obvious road to polygamy or the rest.Report

    • I don’t follow how it’s based in gender discrimination. Isn’t the whole judicial approach based on discrimination of sexual preference?Report

      • Actually it hasn’t. First sexual preference doesn’t have as long a track record as a ‘suspect category’ as gender does in terms of law. Second, the argument simply doesn’t work very well. Gay men can marry women. Straight men can marry women. Sexual preference there is being treated equally by law. But men cannot marry men. In other words the argument centers on gender discrimination, not sexual preference discrimination.

        Of course gay men want to marry men because they are gay. But the law itself is written with gender as its basis.

        Just imagine a law saying gay men simply can’t marry, period (granted enforcing such a law would be tough as you would need gay men to volunteer the fact that they are gay). One could see how that makes some sense in terms of trying to prevent gay men from getting married to women resulting in broken homes. That would, though, be an example of discriminating based on sexual preference.Report

  12. J. Peron says:

    One danger in the slippery slope argument is that the beginning of the slope is often arbitrary yet very important. Saying that SSM is the beginning of the slope is really arbitrary. It could be interracial marriage started the slippery slope, but it could also be other things. Marriages were typically arranged in many places, including the West, for a very long time. So did allowing the couple to choose their own partners start the slope, after all if people are free to marry partners of their own choice they may someday choose partners of the same gender. Similarly marriage was often a business arrangement meant to consolidate property but then people started marrying for love. Again allowing love means some people might love the “wrong” gender. So perhaps the slope started there. Maybe it started with allowing anyone to marry for any reason.Report

    • Boonton in reply to J. Peron says:

      Think about the metaphor a bit. What’s the problem with a slippery slope? Well the lack of friction combined with gravity may carry you down much too quickly and you’ll fall.

      So on one side you have the ‘start’ of the slope being people opting to marry for love. You have on the extreme other end some absurd thing like people marrying furniture. Yea maybe having marriages be based primarily on love is a ‘start of a slope’ to “I married the coffee table”, but it doesn’t seem very slippery to me.Report