The real problem with slippery slope arguments…

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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83 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Slippery slopes are not all created equal. The notion that incremental change can create momentum (or otherwise enable) undesirable change is absolutely true. Whether that’s a justification not to take the first step depends entirely on the specifics of the situation.

    How much more likely does A make B?

    How good and important is A?

    How bad is B?

    Sometimes A can actually make B less likely, if it sufficiently addresses the issue that B doesn’t seem necessary, or if unrelenting opposition to A leads to losing your seat at the table when discussing B.

    But it’s all in the specifics.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      True Will, but people making slippery slope arguments approximately never list those specifics or how likely each one of those things are. People use the SS to avoid talking about the specifics or how things often sway back and forth or often don’t go nearly as far as people fear.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        And in my experience, the response to an unaccepted slippery slope argument usually begins and ends with “that’s a slippery slope fallacy” (even when it’s not the fallacious variety) rather than how B isn’t that bad, A does not make B appreciably more likely, or A may help prevent B.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Someone saying that an argument that relies on P, P -> Q, Q -> R, and concludes that therefore P -> R is a slippery slope argument is usually someone engaging in cargo cultism.

          “I saw someone yell this once in a different argument and he won that argument. Therefore, when I yell it in this case, I will win this argument.”Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          It seems like the most common response to having a SS argument called out if for the speaker to say ” But we did A and it lead to Z in some other case, so therefore this SS is correct.” When people use SS’s they are trying to say A is wrong because it will lead to Z. But A is the issue, if A is fine then that needs to be the focus. If there is evidence it may lead to B or C then present that.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The people who argued that SSM would inevitably lead to bestiality were obviously wrong.

    The people who argued that SSM would inevitably lead to polygamy were, well… it hasn’t led to it *YET*. And, besides? What’s wrong with polygamy anyway? Maybe a woman would want to marry three guys, am I right?Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    I concur. Slippery slope arguments are lazy. I know i’ve hassled plenty of people here about making them , but they are an obvious fallacy that many smart people use when upset or they don’t want to look at all the ways things usually don’t move on one slippery slope.Report

  4. Avatar zic says:

    Living as I do in the mountains of the northeast, and mountains that abound with water, making them slippery any time of the year, I have a view that slippery slopes are the norm of life.

    My dad used to own a farm next to an airport, an emergency landing field for the Air Force built in WWII; on the top of a flat plateau in central Maine. Like most Maine farms, the fields were surrounded by stone walls. And the stone walls, here, were filled with fossils of sea shells, though it was a good 70-miles from the ocean and some 500 feet above sea level. Point being, even the flat ground your standing may be, if your time scale’s large enough, slipping.

    So the more interesting part of slippery slope arguments are not those that we recognize and point out, it’s the ones built into conventional wisdom that we never question; the slippery slope of our conventional wisdom.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Yep. The problem with the slippery slope isn’t that it’s *WRONG*. It’s that it’s as likely to get you to a wrong answer as a right one.

      If you get to the right answer the wrong way, you only stumbled across the right answer by accident.

      It doesn’t mean that you didn’t find the right answer, though.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        David Brooks has a new book out, and from his recent NYT columns questioning morality, he’s putting on a fine display.

        Someone should buy that man a snowboard, some boots and bindings, a set of wrist guards and a helmet (safety first!), and tell him, “Keep your arms in your ride.”

        ‘Cause he’s all akimbo on the slippery slope of morals right now.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    Jaybird: Maybe a woman would want to marry three guys, am I right?

    I’ve been saying this here for years. If we accept polygamy, a woman’s entitled to as many husbands and/or wives as she can afford.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      I could see the social cause against polygamy back in the day when women were legally more or less property (can’t have one rich guy hoarding all the womenfolk for hisself).

      Nowadays, just seems silly. Especially if marriage is really all about nurturing & support.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I’m repeating myself here from a previous post, but I think a nurturing standard for marriage is a good one; and legally, I’d define it as co-mingled co-habitation. If you room with a bunch of people and keep separate finances, it doesn’t count. But if you co-mingle your finances and lives beyond basic household-costs sharing, it’s a marriage. That gives two single mothers who live together to form family support structure the same rights of marriage as me and my sweetie have enjoyed for 34 years.

        I realize that’s got some other difficulties, but if we’re serious about having the family as central unit of nurture, people living together as family should receive family rights; nurturing rights. Because that’s how folks actually live their lives.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:

          Sorry Zic,

          But I lived with my legally married wife for several years before we decided to co mingle funds. I see no reason why that should be the clip level for a “marriage”.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            Family members in a state where divorce laws require co-mingling on settling. They’re pretty wealthy. They always had separate accounts; but here assets got co-mingled (a couple of small inheritances.)

            He’s a pretty severe alcoholic now, and she’s like to leave. But if she does, they divide her assets. His, on the other hand, were always separate. And he just inherited a couple of million. If they divorce, they divide her $200,000 and the value of their home (which is a valuable home, but he’s leveraged it to the hilt, so she get’s to pay off half the mortgages and home-equity loans); but he gets to keep his un co-mingled income, investments, and inheritance; and he pretty much uses this as a way to deflect any and all requests she makes for sober life. It’s abusive. She can leave, but she’ll lose everything if she does.

            Personally, I find that a bit immoral.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I don’t think the dynamics have changed as much as you think the dynamics have changed.

        Ultimately, I opposed legally recognized polygamy because it does, to me, represent increased complication – and by extension weakening – of “traditional” marriage in a way that SSM very much did not.

        I do support the recent prohibition on laws preventing plural unions from living as plural unions, which I approach independently of my support for SSM and opposition to LRP.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        There’s a simpler issue with polygamy: It’s incredibly hard to do legally.

        If I am unable to make medical decisions, my wife by virtue of our marriage can. And vice versa.

        If we’re a triad, who makes the call? You might end up with two spouses with opposite decisions. If you make one ‘senior’ then it’s no longer an equal exchange of rights — one party is privileged over the other.

        Now, I’m perfectly okay with deliberately setting up an unequal exchange if every party is in agreement (perhaps they feel that, when all the exchanges and decisions are sorted out, it’s equal enough or perhaps they’re good with unequal. Not my business, really cause it ain’t my polygamous marriage) and it’s all consensual (note: Consent has been a REAL historical issue in polygamy. Care should be taken here).

        The more parties involved, the worse the problem becomes. But you could set up a contract and negotiate with all parties and handle all the legal stuff. With the aide of a good lawyer and quite a bit of work.

        However, you can’t do that sort of thing with a boilerplate contract like the civil side of marriage. It’s not something you can sign a template at the courthouse about (like, you know, you do when you’re married).

        Perhaps it has solutions, perhaps it doesn’t. At the moment, however, that particular knotty problem is sufficient for the US government not to allow polygamous marriages. It’s not motivated by any particular animus, so much as a total inability to make it equatable to all parties.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar says:

          morat20: If I am unable to make medical decisions, my wife by virtue of our marriage can. And vice versa.

          If we’re a triad, who makes the call? You might end up with two spouses with opposite decisions. If you make one ‘senior’ then it’s no longer an equal exchange of rights — one party is privileged over the other.

          If our daughter should be in a critical medical state and certain decisions must need be made, and if I and my wife were to disagree, then who makes the call?

          Perhaps that sort of situation doesn’t arise very often, but it certainly can and does arise on occasion, and that’s in a bog-standard, Ozzy & Harriet style, hetero marriage. So I don’t know that that particular objection is actually that strong. Is there any reason to believe it would arise more frequently in a triad? Perhaps in a larger group the sheer probability would rise due to more spouses having an opinion.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            @road-scholar If the parents disagree they take it to court to have a judge either say what will happen or just give one parent sole legal custody. It doesn’t happen often but that is what would occur. I’ve seen it a few times and its always an ugly fight.

            If there were multiple “parents” it would be difficult since the child really only has two bio parents so there would need to be some preexisting arrangement about what powers the other spouses had. Even then it would be messy since you could have non-bio parents over ruling bio parents.Report

            • Avatar Glyph says:

              greginakthe child really only has two bio parents

              Maybe usually, today, but not forever.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              A friend and her long-term partner recently separated; they have a daughter together, and she has a son from a previous relationship that he helped raise until they separated. The older child’s father is an active parent.

              In settling custody of their daughter, the man also requested visitation rights with the boy who’d he’d helped raise. And a judge granted him that; he gets him one weekend a month.

              Yes, it can be complicated. But you would be foolish to think that probate courts aren’t already dealing with this kind of thing, too.Report

            • Avatar DavidTC says:

              If there were multiple “parents” it would be difficult since the child really only has two bio parents so there would need to be some preexisting arrangement about what powers the other spouses had.

              What the hell do ‘bio parents’ have to do with medical decisions?

              I think some people are not aware of how marriage laws actually work with regard to children. Here it is, as far as I understand it:

              If a woman gives birth to a child, that child is under her guardianship. (Regardless of whether or not it actually is biologically hers. Think ‘in vitro mistakes’ or ‘surrogacy without a contract’)

              If the woman is married, that child is *also* under her spouse’s guardianship. Regardless of whether or not that spouse is the biological father. Or, in the case of married lesbians, whether or not the spouse could even hypothetically be the ‘biological father’. (Please note while this is true *legally*, in practice lesbian spouses often end up explicitly adopting their wife’s child just in case they end up somewhere that refuses to recognize their marriage, but this is a legal hack to get around inequality in the law.)

              And if a woman is unmarried, she can put a father on the birth certificate and make them a guardian also. This, oddly, also works if the person she lists is not actually the father. (I’m unsure if this will work for unmarried lesbian couples, but would be funny to try.)

              Now, if there are biological parents out there that got left out of this (And have not signed papers removing their rights.), they *also* can go to court to get some sort of custody-sharing agreement…although notice they can’t *remove* anyone else’s guardianship.

              If a woman was married to multiple people, like to two men and one other woman, then, logically, *all of them have guardianship*. All of them. All of them are equal in guardianship. That is how children born into marriages work.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                @davidtc First off state laws vary so it isn’t one simple answer. However bio parents, married or not, both have the ability to make legal decisions for children. If you aren’t a bio parent you don’t get to make those choices without some sort of special circumstance ( such as you are married to a woman who has a child that is not yours biologically when born and the bio dad isn’t put on the birth certificate. I’m sure that happens, but not often). Parents who are aren’t bio, dont’ just get rights to make decisions about a child out of nowhere even if they are married to a bio parent. Even if you are married to a person and you are a step parent, unless there are some odd state laws i haven’t heard about, you don’t have any legal rights to the child.

                The complexity of a plural marriage is that you would have non-bio parents with legal rights which, like i said, is not automatic in anyway. That could get really complex if one of the bio parents wants out but could potentially be out voted. The courts in general have been pretty clear nationwide AFAIK that bio parents have primacy over non bio and retain their rights even if they haven’t been part of child’s life. I guess there may be a few exceptions but i can’t think of them right now and they would be rare and odd circumstances.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                However bio parents, married or not, both have the ability to make legal decisions for children.

                That is simply not true.

                People who are *legal guardians* have the ability to make legal decisions for children. Someone who is a biological parent but not a legal guardian cannot make a decision. Someone who is a legal guardian but not a biological parent can.

                That is, literally, the entire story. There is no more then that, there is no less then than.

                Now, biological parents are, *in theory*, the *starting* legal guardians. And biological parents who are *not* legal guardians can go to court and get some custody.

                But that’s like asserting that the owner of a house is ‘Whoever gets seriously injured visiting it’, instead of ‘the registered owner of the property’. Just because people can go to court and gain something doesn’t mean it’s correct to describe them as having already won!

                Biological parents can win shared custody in courts if they didn’t start with custody. If they have NOT DONE THAT, they have absolutely no right at all to make medical decisions.

                The courts in general have been pretty clear nationwide AFAIK that bio parents have primacy over non bio and retain their rights even if they haven’t been part of child’s life.

                Wrong. The courts have been pretty clear that bio parents have the right to *gain* some measure of custody. They do not magically have some control even if they don’t, and they do not have ‘primacy’ over other legal guardians.

                Now, as biological parents already do have a right to custody if they want it, they have ‘primacy’ over someone wishing to *adopt* their child. They, like any other potential guardian, can interfere with someone else trying to *become* a guardian, and they are likely to win.

                They can’t interfere with someone who already is a guardian, or undo that.

                If you aren’t a bio parent you don’t get to make those choices without some sort of special circumstance ( such as you are married to a woman who has a child that is not yours biologically when born and the bio dad isn’t put on the birth certificate. I’m sure that happens, but not often).

                Uh, no. The situation, in fact, always happens the other way.

                You can’t keep a spouse off a birth certificate without the spouse’s consent, as a lot of women who are still legally married but separated have discovered. *Regardless* of who the biological father is.

                If a woman has been separated for five years from her husband, and she and another man have a child, the husband has the *legal right* to a measure of custody, even if the woman can *prove* the situation is as I’ve described. The biological father can, of course, sue for paternity, and gain some custody also…but that doesn’t remove the husband’s custody. Only the husband can do that.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                @davidtc Let me start to respond by stating that i work for a state court and specifically in custody matters.

                Bio parents start off as legal guardians unless a court or CPS changes that for some reason. Sometimes bio parents have their rights taken away but that would come from abuse or neglect. But bio parents are the child’s legal guardians to start unless that is changed or some really odd circumstance ( like maybe a third party adoption or egg donor case.) If the bio father wasn’t present or unknown that can make the situation complicated. However in my experience once the father makes himself known and dumps some DNA they have a right to, at the minimum, contact with the child.

                Again bio parents always have rights unless they are taken away. In the vast majority of cases it is the bio parents who are the legal guardians at birth. The exceptions would be CPS involvement due to abuse or neglect or the rarer cases like third party adoption or surrogacy.

                Husband for years but a not bio parent, is a tricky issue. It would depend on if the bio parent was known or not. The far more common case would be if a stepparent had acted in a parental role for a child for years, then they could get some time with a child as a psychological parent. Whether a husband would automatically get parental rights even if they weren’t the bio father and the bio father was known that would depend on the state law and judges ruling. I’ve seen a couple situations sort of like that. Given AK state law and the judges the bio father always had rights although each specific situation was complicated.

                Custody cases can be really complex due to the odd relationships people have and how messy they make their lives. While there are a lot of odd situations, most cases the bio parents are known and aren’t married to someone else when the child is born. They will be the legal guardians to start with. There could certainly be states with some different law, i’m most familiar with AK and i’ve heard quite a bit about a few other states.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                Bio parents start off as legal guardians unless a court or CPS changes that for some reason.

                This is, literally, 100% wrong.

                The woman whose birth canal the child exits is one legal guardian, and the person that is legally the father (by being married to her or that person being put on the birth cert if not) is the other legal guardian.

                If someone else is the biological father, and everyone *admits* he’s the biological father, and he’s in the damn delivery room…*he’s still not the legal guardian* if she’s married to someone else. Or if she puts down a different name on the birth cert. (And, as I said, it is sometimes true that *she* isn’t the biological mother, either. Doesn’t matter.)

                Period. That is the actual facts of the actual law. Guardianship starts off as who gives birth, plus their spouse or whoever they say if they are missing a spouse. Even for lesbian marriages, once all that gets normalized. (Some states that have been forced to allow gay marriage are now fighting exactly this fight. They will lose.)

                Any biological parents not included in that can go to courts and demand some custody, but that doesn’t, in anyway, remove the rights of the anyone else.

                However in my experience once the father makes himself known and dumps some DNA they have a right to, at the minimum, contact with the child.

                Which is entirely different from the ‘priority’ you just said. And, I must point out, isn’t the same thing as making medical decisions.

                I don’t understand why *you* keep saying nonsense, when you apparently know *full well* the law.

                The people who get to make medical decisions are the legal guardians. That classification *defaults* to woman who gave birth to the kid, and her spouse if there is one, or whoever is designated the father if there is not. These people are *usually* the biological parents, but the father, or even the mother, might not be. If someone *else* is a biological parent, they can go to court to gain some sort of access, but that, *in no way*, removes the rights of the existing guardians. They *certainly* don’t ‘take priority’.

                If you have a disagreement with that previous paragraph, state it. But it’s entirely, 100%, correct.

                And, as my entire fucking point, if we had three-or-more person marriages, presumably, we would extend the ‘legal parents’ to *all the people married to the woman*. Men, women, whoever. It would have absolutely nothing to do with who the biological father is. (If the marriage dissolved almost immediately, the court *might* take biological ties into consideration. If the child has been being raised by multiple family members, however, the decision would probably be based on other things.)

                And, before anyone objects, there are plenty of children with more than two parents. ‘second-parent adoption’ is pretty common for step-parents, and literally results in someone legally having two fathers and one mother, or vis versa. (This is opposed to other sorts of adoption, where prior legal guardianship is terminated.)Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                @davidtc Ach. This is going no where but i’ll try again.

                I don’t’ understand why say bio parents don’t’ start off as legal guardians when you also later say the mom ( owner of the birth canal) is always a legal guardian. That in no way disagrees with what i said.

                If a woman is married to a man who isn’t the bio dad that can get complicated but is not that common a situation. The guy on the birth cert does become the legal guardian. However if the bio father is around he can go to court for his legal rights. It doesn’t matter who is in the delivery room ( well i guess the mom is there but that is self-evident). But bio parents can always get rights to their child if they demand them. Bio dads around teh country, and in cases i’ve been involved in, have asked for and got rights to children they fathered but were even around for the first few years of the child life. Biology always matters to courts.

                Even if a woman puts a different name down on the BC the bio dad can go to court, smack down some DNA, and get some rights to teh child.

                When i say bio parents have priority i mean that they will start, in most cases, as the ones with legal custody. For someone else to get a share of legal custody it would take one of a few circumstances most of which go from not that common to rare. For most children in the country the bio parents are the legal guardians. If a bio parent wants to get rights/contact with a child the courts grant their biological involvement in creating the child as giving them standing and often leads to some contact. Stepparents can only get standing and time with a child if they are declared a psychological parent or , in a rare case, were on the BC instead of the bio dad.

                This comment has gone on long enough. I think, in terms of plural families, you are brushing aside the complexities of having more than 2 people with legal custody. If you have some cites for cases where multiple people have had legal custody it would be interesting to see them and might clarify the discussion. There are plenty of unusual cases in family law.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                I don’t’ understand why say bio parents don’t’ start off as legal guardians when you also later say the mom ( owner of the birth canal) is always a legal guardian. That in no way disagrees with what i said.

                As I have repeatedly pointed out, who someone’s parents are, to start with, is who is on the birth cert. Period, end of story.

                You keep pointing out that the biological parents are the people *usually* there, which is, indeed, true. But that doesn’t change where the *actual legal determination* is, which is names on a piece of paper, not biology.

                I am saying ‘The legal rule is X’, and you keep saying ‘The legal rule is Y. Well, okay, it’s *really* X, but Y is usually the same thing as X. If they aren’t same, X does win, so the rule is, indeed, *actually* X. But I will keep insisting for some absurd reason the answer is really Y.’.

                This, uh, make you wrong and me right. It doesn’t matter how much you keep saying it.

                All biology does is give people the right to *inject* themselves into the group of parents…just like second-parent adoption does, but even easier. This I do not deny. But it does *not*, in any way whatsoever, reduce the ‘parenthood’ of the people on the birth cert.

                And, of course, the entire point of this is talking about *polygamy*, which, as I pointed out, would almost certainly result in *all spouses being listed on the birth cert* as parents (Because that is generally how marriage law works with new children.), which would make them all *equally* parents. 100% equally.

                The biological parents in such a marriage would have *no additional power* over the people in the marriage, and that was the *entire damn point* of my comment. Currently, if two people are the legal parents of someone, and only one of them is the biological parent…that one has *no additional power* over the kid. They are entirely equal in the eyes of the law and courts. The same thing is true if there are five legal parents and two bio parents, or four legal parents and three bio parents.

                Biological parents don’t get any ability to ‘kick out’ the non-biological parent, anymore than a woman who put the wrong person on her kid’s birth certificate can’t magically have the power to remove that person’s guardianship later, or a parent who let their new spouse adopt their kid can’t magically remove that spouse’s guardianship later either.

                Biology automatically allows someone *into* the circle of parents. (And, in fact, is the only way for a person to force themselves in without the consent of the other parents.) But it is not some sort of veto power, it does not automatically win in the courts.

                This comment has gone on long enough. I think, in terms of plural families, you are brushing aside the complexities of having more than 2 people with legal custody.

                I have no idea why you think ‘more than 2 people’ is some sort threshold for custody complexity. Surely, the complexity shows up at more than *one* person.

                And, indeed, it turns out were have *entire legal structures* for dealing with two parents and what happens if they disagree. I am unsure why these would become much more complicated with dealing with more than two parents. Especially since, uh, such things exist.

                If you have some cites for cases where multiple people have had legal custody it would be interesting to see them and might clarify the discussion. There are plenty of unusual cases in family law.

                …while there are plenty of unusual cases in family law, *that’s not one of them*. As I said, it’s called ‘second parent adoption’, and a lot of step-parents do it, resulting in the child having their (no longer together) two original parents, and a new additional parent. (As opposed to ‘step-parent adoptions’, which is where the step-parent *replaces* one of the original parents.)

                In fact, the reasoning is exactly the same: The children of a person’s spouse should also be legally their children. Here, it didn’t happen by default, so happened by adoption.

                And, of course, as I pointed out, if the original parents listed on the birth cert are *not* the biological parents, the biological parent has the right to step in and also become a parent. This situation *also* already happens, all the damn time.

                There are probably hundreds of thousands of children with more than two legal parents *right now*. Hell, somewhere, right now, there’s probably a boy that five different people have custody of…1) his biological mother, who was legally his mother at birth, 2) her ex-husband, who was put on the birth certificate by ‘presumption of paternity’, 3) his biological father who gained shared custody via a paternity test, and 4) his biological mother’s new husband, who second parent adopted him, and 5) his presumed father (#2)’s new husband, who also second parent adopted him.

                Polygamy does not create any sort of additional confusion there.

                If anything, legalized polygamy would *reduce* problems because right now, people in polygamous relationships with children often end up with people-raising-children who are not the legal parents.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      “I’ve been saying this here for years. If we accept polygamy, a woman’s entitled to as many husbands and/or wives as she can afford”

      How do you marry 83.4% of a guy?Report

  6. Avatar trizzlor says:

    My concern with the slippery slope argument is that even people who set out to use it rationally, eventually start using it in more and more fallacious ways.Report

  7. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Slippery slope arguments are just evidence that people suck at extrapolating potential consequences of given actions. Or, if we don’t want to be nice, it is evidence that people just don’t care about extrapolating to inconvenient results.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think Will is right. There are slippery slopes that are real, it is not always a fallacy but you are also right that all slippery slopes tend to be viewed with a very Partisan and Cognitive Bias lens. This is probably why it is best to avoid slippery slope arguments even though it is perfectly good form of argument in litigation. If we allow X, we need to allow Y.

    Jaybird is right that SSM probably will not lead to legalized Bestiality but I think it does lead to people looking more into why do we ban multiple marriages. I am pro SSM but still against multiple marriages being legal.*

    *My reasoning for this is that it recognizing multiple marriages will just create way too many headaches for the law in the areas of Wills and Trusts, Estate Planning, Property, Family Law and Child Custody. Suppose Alice is married James and Phil. Alice and Phil have two children, Alice and James have none because James is sterile. Alice decides that she wants to separate from Phil and just became exclusive with James. Can James get better custody rights over the children if he can prove that he did more of the actual parenting than Phil? Can Phil demand that James not be allowed near his children for a variety of reasons (not outright abuse but a noticed and proveable coldness perhaps)? What if Alice, James, and Phil equally contribute towards the mortgage? Does Phil get to that he should be the one who gets the house? etc.

    I think there are valid policy reasons for not wanting to further complicate these areas of the law. Allowing SSM does not complicate these areas of the law, multiple marriages will.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      No the SS is a poor argument. What can make an argument good is providing specifics and evidence why things might go from A to Z and why Z is bad. It requires saying why there is no way of stopping at C or E or F and why those are bad in themselves not just that they are the road to Heck. Certainly things go from one place to another place that is far away. But not in a clean and predictable way. Not without swings in opinion or other changes.

      People rightly criticize SS arguments because it is made be people screaming the sky is falling.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        What can make an argument good is providing specifics and evidence why things might go from A to Z and why Z is bad. It requires saying why there is no way of stopping at C or E or F and why those are bad in themselves

        There is a term for that: “slippery slope argument.”Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Urr…ummm….Not sure what you mean here so i’ll just assume you are agreeing with me and that i’m correct. That is usually the safest approach i find.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        >>What can make an argument good is providing specifics and evidence why things might go from A to Z and why Z is bad.

        Exactly, the problem with SS is that the arguer wants to use all the emotional wallop of Z without the work required in demonstrating the causal chain between A and Z. This is especially problematic when the trend that’s being predicted is one that’s already happening, e.g: gay marriage is going to lead to more sex on TV; or this policy will give the president lower approval than at his inauguration.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      At least in the United States, I don’t think you can legalize polygamy in away that is Constitutional and doesn’t lead to a great big legal mess. Legalized polygamy can work if you pass a polygamy law that states that only men can have multiple wives. Than you avoid any legal mess problems. If you write a polygamy law that is Constitutional and allows women to have multiple husbands and same sex polygamy than your going to a legal nightmare.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Why do you think this?

        And then, not than.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          A lot of the law and custom surrounding marriage assumes a degree of exclusivity. That you can only be married to one person at one time.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          The legally simplest for of polygamous marriage possible is what I call the anchor spouse marriage or what Muslims do. You have a husband and his up to four wives. Those four wives are not allowed to be married to another man at the same time that a husband is alive. The anchor spouse marriage is probably the only form of polygamous marriage that will not result in a legal clusterfish when it comes to the legal aspects of marriage as you outlined above. Anchor spouse marriages also violates the equal protection of laws aspect of the 5th and 14th amendment because the rights of some people in the marriage, the ones not allowed to enter into another marriage, are limited.

          For legalized polygamous marriage to survive a constitutional challenge, the rights of no spouse can be violated. Lets say that Man A is married to Women A, B, C. Wife A meets Man B and latter wants to marry him but still maintain her marriage to Man A. Women C meets Women D and wants to marry her while still being married to Man A. Under the equal protection clause, this has to be allowed. You can’t limit the rights to marry like an Islamic country would where Women A, B, and C simply couldn’t marry anybody else while Man A lived. The former situation will lead to several clusterfishs.

          We could simply declare that everybody is married to all non-blood relatives but this would have it’s own problems.Report

          • It’s not that hard, really.

            1. A marriage is a union of two or more people.
            2. A person can be a member of at most one marriage at a time.
            3. Each member of a marriage has an absolute right of exit.
            4. Adding another person to an existing marriage requires unanimous consent of its members.

            All perfectly equal.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        “Constitutional”? Pish-posh, that old piece of paper says whatever we want it to say. Only people who want to stand in the way of progress ever fall back on that old chestnut of “Constitutionality”. 😉

        (Out of curiosity, I agree it would be a legal mess under current frameworks, but what does the Constitution, specifically, have to do with that?)Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Marriage isn’t in the constitution, is it? At least not in the original version and Bill of Rights originally adopted.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          No, but equal protection of the laws is in the Constitution. This means that if legalized polygamy comes to the United States than it is going to have to be written in away consistent with the equal protection clause. I believe that this is basically impossible when dealing with more material aspects of a marriage.Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar says:

      Saul Degraw,

      I concur, Councilor! Family law has enough minefields as it is. In particular it’s characterized by situations that are easy, pleasant, and natural to get into and one bitch to unwind if/when things go south.

      Just to stimulate thought on the issue, what would the general structure of a poly-marriage look like? Would there be a central, abstract entity that’s “the marriage” that individuals would enter into (and out of)? Or would it simply be an interconnected chain of “bi-lateral” marriages of arbitrary complexity? If John and Sue are married and they want to add Ellen, would Ellen be married to both individually or to the marriage as a thing in and of itself? Sounds too much like organic chem to me and I HATED organic chemistry.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      @saul degraw

      So you justify continued discrimination against certain minorities regarding marriage because it’s just too hard, or your unwilling to noodle out the details, to make that type of marriage work?Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I suppose if you were deliberately trying to misread someone and go for as insulting an opinion as possible of what they said, then Saul could be read that way.

        Everyone else would just nod and realize, indeed, working out group marriages consistent with the Constitution is a non-trivial challenge at best — and that’s with lawyers customizing the contract for each group.

        It’s entirely possible it’s simply not compatible with the Constitution, which would be pretty interesting. As equal protection is the grounds for granting SSM, equal protection would also be the big roadblock to polygamy.

        But we can ignore than and draw up strawmen instead, if you’d like.Report

        • Avatar switters says:

          Damon captured Sauls sentiments pretty accurately if you ask me.

          Here is Saul :”I am pro SSM but still against multiple marriages being legal.* – *My reasoning for this is that it recognizing multiple marriages will just create way too many headaches for the law in the areas of Wills and Trusts, Estate Planning, Property, Family Law and Child Custody.”

          Which is accurately summarized by Damons “So you justify continued discrimination against certain minorities regarding marriage because it’s just too hard, or your unwilling to noodle out the details, to make that type of marriage work?”

          And for the record, these arguments that polygamous marriage is just too complicated sound eerily close to many of the disingenuous arguments put forward by opponents of SSM. Its a civil right. If its complicated, lets get to working it out. Particularly when the ill effects of that complication will fall predominantly on the minority group fighting for those rights.Report

          • Avatar morat20 says:

            *snort* “Eerily close” is scare words.

            Same sex marriage has always been easy. You swap out “husband” and “wife” for “spouse” in the law and nothing else changes. Two consenting adults who are not currently married. All you’ve done is remove gender from the equation.

            Polygamy is complicated the instant you actually think about the ‘government’ side of it. And by “complicate” I mean “potentially intractable”.

            Let me put it to you this way: My stance against polygamy is entirely pragmatic. If you can put forth a legal, Constitutional (specifically the 14th Amendment, equal protection) framework for polygamy, I am ALL for it. I suspect Saul’s exactly the same way.

            My entire objection boils down to “How do we do this, on the legal/contract side? How’s it going to work? I don’t see any solutions”. As soon as someone presents a workable one, I am all for it. It’s not like I have any animus against polygamy, or some weird belief that other people’s marriages somehow affect the reality of my own.

            So no, they’re not “eerily similar”. The anti-SSM crusade was NEVER based purely on pragmatic, procedural grounds. No-one stood before a court and said “Look, I’d go for it, but how’s it actually supposed to work? I mean, like, how do we handle power of attorney? Custody? Estates at death? Taxes even?”. Of course they didn’t, because the answer is “Duh, just like a regular marriage dummy”.

            But can you answer that for polygamy? Can you do it, specifically, without recourse to a lawyer and lengthy, specific contracts for the specific polygamous grouping?

            If you can, sign me up for allowing polygamy. Until you can, I’m perfectly happy to say “Not gonna happen until someone works out how to square that circle”. Because the first thing that comes to my mind is two spouses deadlocked over a medical decision for an comatose third, and I’m not seeing a solution.

            let me know when you have one, so I can fly my pro-polygamy flag high.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              I’d also add these two things…

              I suspect it’s logistically impossible to give plural marriage participants all of the same rights as two-person marriage participants. Various privileges and rights we give to married couples depend on exclusivity and scarcity. Allowing Mark Brown’s first wife from Romania into the country? We can do that. His tenth wife? We start worrying about marriage-greencards-for-sale. We can give insurance benefits to one spouse, but the whole thing could collapse unless you limit benefits to a specific number of spouses. In which case… that’s discrimination.

              And not to get all slippery slopey, but I kind of have to since Switters is taking a pro-slope position (We did A, so we really should do B)… if we’re unwilling to tolerate any discrimination of marriage on the basis of religion, we would have to tolerate not only a hippie commune and FLDS’s desire for plural marriage, but also some other sect’s desire that a five year old Laurie Jenkins being married off to Elder Brown with Elder Jenkins’s consent. Otherwise, we’re still discriminating here.

              The only end of all of this is to do away with the institution of marriage as a whole, Which, not coincidentally, I think Damon would be perfectly find with.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar says:

                Will Truman: … if we’re unwilling to tolerate any discrimination of marriage on the basis of religion, we would have to tolerate not only a hippie commune and FLDS’s desire for plural marriage, but also some other sect’s desire that a five year old Laurie Jenkins being married off to Elder Brown with Elder Jenkins’s consent. Otherwise, we’re still discriminating here.

                See, there’s a fallacious slippery slope you can take home and show to your parents.

                It’s not a good argument for the same reason that SSM–>Poly isn’t a good argument. That’s because the reasons we have for banning Poly are different from the reasons for banning underage marriages. Which are different from the reasons for banning adult incest, as well as the reasons which were offered to ban SSM, inter-racial, and, in some societies at least, inter-faith marriages. The ban for a particular marriage restriction will fall IFF the particular reason supporting that particular restriction is deemed insufficient. There’s no particular reason to suppose that the reasons for any of these restrictions are fundamentally related, at least until some change in societies underlying norms is altered.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Rod, did you read the thread preceding my comment?

                I was responding to an absolutist argument about minority marriage rights. An argument which doesn’t stop with Plural Marriage.

                I actually agree with what you just said. The reasoning for SSM, plural marriage, and Elders Brown and Jenkins are different. You can stop after the first one, the second one, or the third one.

                Damon and Switters are arguing that stopping at B is illegitimate because A. That specific argument – not all arguments for plural marriage – invites a discussion of C.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Or put another way, I’m not arguing that B will lead to C. I’m saying that A doesn’t justify B, unless you use an absolute argument that could, if accepted without condition, lead to C.Report

            • Avatar switers says:

              Snort, Morat? Is that the sound of you ignoring the point of my post. Which was taking issue with you calling out Damon for reading Saul uncharitably, while doing it yourself. All he did was restate Saul’s position. Which you called him out for, uncharitably in fact. And it now appears, you share Sauls opinion. But i don’t expect you to address that.

              WRT the poly marriage, I don’t doubt it would be complicated. Life in the 21st century is complicated. I just don’t think its a reason to deny someone the right to structure their family the way they want to. And who would it be complicated for? You? No. IT would be complicated for the people clamoring to have their right recognized. Let them pay for the lawyers. Let them come up with a system. OR, when they inevitably don’t, let a judge step in and do the best he can with whats left. They do it for regular marriage/divorce/custody ALL THE TIME. Our system of law isn’t great, but we’ve dealt with more complicated issues than this for hundreds of years. And i still have no idea what the equal protection angle is.

              Will – my argument isn’t we did A so we should do B, its always been that its ridiculous that we haven’t already done both. And my underlying principle isn’t people can marry anyone they want. Its consenting adults should be able to structure their family life anyway they want. So that pretty much takes care of poor little Laurie Jenkins, and the family sheep for that matter.

              Which, now that you mention it, is one place where the concept of slippery slopes are useful. To help clarify what the underlying principle is. In my case, you assumed an underlying principle of “people should be able to marry whoever they want”, and using that principle assumed it extended to little Laurie Jenkins. Which provided me the opportunity to clarify the underlying principle, which is not “people can marry whoever they want” but that “consenting adults should be able to structure their family any damn way they choose” (subject to the usual carve outs).

              And Road, you can argue all you want that the reason we don’t have SSM and poly marriage are different. The “complicated” argument is clearly different, and may end up being the main reason poly is never legalized. But its not, I don’t think, the current explanation for why their isn’t legalized poly marriage. The real reason is because its different, and we live in a culture that freaks out when they see a nipple on TV, and ewwww, that shit’s gross. Which is exactly the same reason we don’t have SSM. Until people started getting over their ews, and then started dispensing with the other BS anti-ssm arguments.Report

              • Avatar switers says:

                And to clarify, Im not saying that your (Will and Road) arguments are “EWWW, poly”, but that the majority of those unwilling to grant poly marriage rights do so because “EWW, poly.”Report

              • Avatar switters says:

                Morat –
                Is there any other minority group that you would agree should have their rights denied because granting that group such rights would cause too much confusion for that minority group?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Switters,

                {Getting out of combat pose}… I actually agree, to an extent. With gay marriage it’s “Ewww, gay sex” and with plural marriage it’s “Ewwww, Fundamentalist Mormons”… but that’s close to the same thing (the ewww sex vs ewww people being a distinction without much of a difference). And it’s why I think the anti-PM argument will carry the day. Which, in my view, is the right result albeit for the wrong reasons.

                I don’t think you’re reading Morat accurately. As near as I can tell, his views and mine are roughly the same on the subject. We both believe that gay marriage – like interracial marriage – was relatively easy to slip in to the current model, while plural marriage actually requires us to actually change the model. You say we should. I pretty strongly disagree (though I am open to some compromises).

                (As an aside, I think Road actually agrees with you on plural marriage. I think he misunderstood – either because he missed the context or I was not clear – my argument as one actually advocating that we can’t do plural marriage because Laurie Jenkins.)Report

              • Avatar switters says:

                If I’ve given the impression that I believe you and Morat had different reasons for believing what you do, then that was a mistake. I think you both want to deny rights because its too complicated to grant them (and I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity, not to make your argument appear as crude as possible – if you disagree with that formulation, I’d be happy to restate in a way that your comfortable with). ITs just that when Damon pointed that out, Morat got all huffy, and then two comments later, agreed with the same position.

                Your “change the model” stacks the deck a little, I think. Your model, and my model, would not be changed in the slightest. We’d be extending the model to accommodate a previously excluded group, which I agree would be complicated. But, of all the reasons not to grant a right, complication is pretty thin gruel. And, it would be complicated for them, not for you, or for me. If they are willing to accept those complications, do you feel comfortable withholding them anyway? Who are you protecting from the complications? Certainly not the people fighting for them?

                WRT to the “combat pose”, now I feel bad. You are in a very small group of people here who I will ALWAYS give the benefit of the doubt to. You’re style of discussion, and you’re mode of thought, are ones I aspire to. In particular because I don’t think i can recall a single time where you went into combat mode, despite the pretty constant invitations to do so. Which is a long way of saying I apologize, if that was a reaction to a stance you perceived of me, because it means i am failing to emulate you properly!Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The “combat pose” was meant as a reference to my own combativeness in this thread and the other, rather than directed at what you said.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar says:

                switters,

                I would ask you to distinguish between “poly marriage would be complicated therefore it shouldn’t be allowed” vs “poly marriage would be complicated therefore it won’t be allowed (at least not anytime soon). The former is a statement of values, a judgment on right and wrong. The latter is a simple statement of fact, a judgment of what will happen, a prognostication.

                I have no particular normative objection to plural marriage in the abstract. In the concrete, plural marriage raises a number of thorny issues, particularly in relation to children and property, and then most particularly wrt dissolution.

                Basically, the devil’s in the details. I’m not even sure just what exactly advocates are even asking for. Mike offers one model. Lee offers another. I can imagine others. What’s the picture in your head? At least with SSM, it was clear what everyone was arguing about, for or against.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                @switters
                Your “change the model” stacks the deck a little, I think. Your model, and my model, would not be changed in the slightest. We’d be extending the model to accommodate a previously excluded group, which I agree would be complicated. But, of all the reasons not to grant a right, complication is pretty thin gruel. And, it would be complicated for them, not for you, or for me. If they are willing to accept those complications, do you feel comfortable withholding them anyway? Who are you protecting from the complications? Certainly not the people fighting for them?

                Yeah.

                It’s entirely possible that it’s too hard to build any sort of default poly marriage. People want different things, they want to structured in different ways.

                For example, a lot of people seem to be thinking it all going to all-directional, where everyone is married to everyone…which is very odd, because that literally has never been the way multiple marriages have existed in the past. It’s always been one person in two or more completely different marriages. Two women married to the same man (Or, in rare cases, two men married to the same woman) have never been considered married to each other, at least not that I am aware of. And yet everyone seems to think that would be the model.

                Anyway, as we can’t figure out the rules, all that means is all poly marriages should have some sort of pre-nup or contract *stating* the rules.

                Of course, due to the way that polygamy has been abused in the past, it would be smart to put put in some sort of minimal protections for people that contracts can’t get around. For example, it might be a good idea to check our laws about ‘age of marriage with parental consent’, and just completely remove that entire idiotic concept. Either someone is old enough to get married, or they aren’t.

                That, and some other crap, are things we are going to have to deal with *before* we allow poly marriage, to make sure it doesn’t turn *back* into ‘men just keep collecting young women (Or even teenagers) and rotating to a newer model every few years while the older wives just turn into creche operators for the kids’, which is something it has often been in the past. (Or, if it does turn into that, we need to make sure the women can, just as easy or easier as the guy getting rid of them, band together to get rid of the guy and keep the kids they’ve been raising.)Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        We got dozens of folks working all kinds of problems all over the gov’t. Put a committee on it. It may take a dozen years, but it’ll get noodled out.

        Christ, are you telling me that it’s harder than sending a man to the moon in terms of brain power?Report

    • Avatar DavidTC says:

      I am pro SSM but still against multiple marriages being legal.*

      Being against something because it’s impractical is entirely different than being against something because it’s a horrible policy.

      The issue that people supposedly had with gay marriage had nothing to do with practicality. If anything, it’s slightly easier to marry any two people instead of requiring them to be of the opposite gender. It removes a required check.

      I am against replacing all roads with mag-lev trains, because that would be impractical.

      I am against the government randomly shooting and killing people in the street, not because it would be impractical, it would actually be pretty easy. I’m against that because, duh, it’s a horrible policy.

      This exact reason, of course, is why a lot of slippery slope arguments don’t actually work. Someone proposes a simple change of X, and the objection is ‘Well, X will lead to [very impractical thing].’. Well, no, it won’t because people tend to object to very impractical things on the grounds they are, in fact, very impractical. Meanwhile, X itself clearly isn’t impractical, or *that* would have been the objection instead of the slippery slope argument.

      The next time someone proposes a slippery slope argument, ask people need to ask themselves *why*, exactly, we shouldn’t do what they claim we will end up doing. Is it some sort of evil thing, in which case they might have some sort of argument that we shouldn’t go part-way to evil? Or just something impractical that doesn’t make a lot of sense and we wouldn’t do it for that reason, in which case the slippery slope argument is stupid.Report

  9. Avatar Mr. Blue says:

    I find it funny as hell that in a post about how fallacious it was for anti-SSM peeps to argue that SSM would lead to polygamy, people are arguing that SSM justifies polygamy.

    Things on the marriage from are fluid in favor of greater inclusion into the institution of marriage. This isn’t paranoid or speculative. It is fact. Will it stop with SSM instead of going on to polygamy? A few years ago I would have said “almost certainly” though now I am down to “I think?”

    Meanwhile, the chances of gay marriage being used to ban interracial marriage were and are somewhere very close to 0%.Report