Slippery Slope

News and Star (with minor editing for spelling)

I’m uploading the my part of the comments where I interacted with @Ian from the recent article in the news and star without comment. I’m commenting under the name Bob T


Ian: Would anyone object to me marrying my sister then?

Bob T: are you going to play the slippery slope fallacy? Seriously?

Ian: I don’t mind you calling it the “slippery slope” – but why fallacy? Do you have some convincing evidence that it couldn’t happen? A generation ago, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Nearly 10 years ago, when the “civil partnership” discussions were going on, we had assurance after assurance from the politicians that it would be sufficient, the gay community would be content and there was absolutely no question of it going any further…

Bob T: The slippery slope is a recognised logical fallacy. In your post you are arguing that if we grant equal rights to gay marriage then the next step will be incestuous marriage. This is a fallacy because the two are completely disconnected. There are rational reasons to disallow sibling marriage but there are none, not one, against gay marriage.

Ian:  You seem to suggest that my more extreme suggested progression, (incestuous marriage) could never happen because there are “rational reasons” not to allow it. Presumably you’re referring to birth defects as a result of inbreeding? Who is saying there have to BE any births from an incestuous marriage? There are no births from a homosexual marriage, and births from a heterosexual marriage can be easily avoided in a variety of ways! The minute anyone starts trying to make the (in my view, perfectly reasonable) arguments against incestuous marriage, they will be met by a chorus of complaints about the “oppressive majority”, of “bigotry”, of “hatred”, combined with “the if two people love each other what business of anyone else’s is it?” and the “what harm am I doing anyone?” arguments that we are currently seeing.
Far from seeing it as “completely disconnected”, I actually see it as the next (or maybe next-but-one, after polygamy) logical (and deeply sickening) step!
You might not like the idea any more than I do, but I’d be interested to hear the reasons why it could never happen!

Bob T:  Is there any sort of call for people to be able to marry their siblings? This why the slippery slope is a fallacy. We are talking about equal rights for gays, you are talking about incestuous relationships. These are two different things. Can you make a rational argument for why you are against gay marriage?

Bob T: My point is that the discussion is about gay marriage rights not incestuous marriage rights. If you are arguing against the one because you do not like the other then you are using a logical fallacy, either slippery slope or straw man and therefore your argument does not hold.
Can you name a rational reason why gay people should not be afforded equal rights? We can deal with incestuous rights as and when :-)

Ian:  I don’t know if there is a demand for incestuous marriage, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t exist. Based on the fact that there was a time when there wasn’t a demand for gay marriage, and then there was; and there wasn’t a demand to change the meaning of the term “marriage” to include same-sex couples – and now there is, I’d have thought it was all depressingly likely! Moreover, any attempt to prevent it could, with equal validity, be countered with the arguments we’re seeing now. I therefore believe that far from being a fallacy, it’s actually a very real likelihood!

As far as the rational arguments for why I’m against gay marriage…

…well first of all, I’m NOT against gay marriage! I’m against gay marriage being included in the definition of “marriage”, because we then have two different things with the same meaning – at best, needlessly confusing! If gay couples aren’t happy with their current “civil partnership” term and want to change it to “gay marriage”, I don’t have a problem with it.

I do however, have the following concerns:

1. Ascribing the same meaning for both relationships dilutes the significance of the term “marriage”. Ultimately, it will come to mean some sort of lifelong (or at least until a divorce is issued) commitment between two “beings”.

2. Altering the definition to encompass same-sex relationships leaves the door open to other forms of relationship that are also not currently understood to mean “marriage”. I think you already know my feelings on that! If you feel incestuous marriage is too far-fetched, try polygamous marriage. I’m sure there’s likely to be more of a demand for that! It is always easy for a vocal minority to accuse any large group of people who disapprove of their actions of “bigotry” and “hatred” and “opression”, but that, in itself, doesn’t mean their cause is right.

3. (and this something I’m really quite scared of!) Although the current talk is to “leave the church out of it”, and nobody is (yet) talking about the further imposition of gay marriages on churches that oppose it, I can see that a subsequent step will be for a gay couple to bring about a prosecution under the discriminations laws, against a church that refused to wed them. I’d hope it was unlikely, but having seen the treatment dished out to the elderly B&B couple recently, I’m afraid I can’t rule the possibility out.

Bob T:  What is really annoying is when you spend time writing a reply to a post on this forum only to find that it has been blocked by the moderator. This has happened twice in the last day to post in reply to @Ian. Sorry Ian, I’m not ignoring you.

Bob T: Just to quickly restate my response to your arguments against gay marriage. This is a summary of my previous vanished post which was obviously both brilliant and erudite;-)

1. This is just an argument about semantics. Marriage is already a word with many meanings. It is not a sacred or reserved word.

2. Slippery slope argument. Not an argument against gay marriage. Not valid.

3. Divorced people are allowed to re-marry. The catholic church doesn’t allow them to marry in church. Why would gay marriage be any different. You can have whatever petty, mean-minded rules you want for your club. Don’t impose them on society as a whole. Any anyway, this is another slippery slope argument, not an argument against gay marriage as proposed.
Final point. Asking B&B owners to obey the law just like everyone else is not discrimination against christians.

Ian:  1. I think it’s a bit more than semantics, although I absolutely acceot that’s part of it. Far from having lots of meanings, the word “marriage” in this country at least, has a very definite legal meaning (which is what this consultation is looking at changing). If it went through, then presumably there would also have to be a consequential legal re-definition of the words “husband” and “wife”? Not sure if there would be others.
2. Saying the argument is “not valid” isn’t an argument in itself – it’s just you telling me that (in your opinion) it’s “not valid)!
3. I think your last point only reinforces my concerns, to be honest. That, combined with the language you’re using, gives me the distinct impression that, far from it not being a valid concern, there are people out there who are planing to do PRECISELY what I’m worried about! (i.e. subsequently use the equality legislation to force a religious organisation to offer something that it is morally opposed to). I really can’t understand why it’s “me” imposing my morality on society, when the campaign is the other way round – the gay community seeking to impose IT’S definition of “marriage” on the rest of society!

Bob T: Obviously the word marriage has a single legal meaning (as well as all the other meanings) but that doesn’t mean it is fixed. Everything changes. Usually for the better.
2. I had asked you for a rational argument against gay marriage. These were your responses. Presenting an argument against incestuous marriage really is not a valid response. It really isn’t.
3. I really don’t care what religious institutions do in their churches. People are free to be members or not. I mentioned the case of divorce in the catholic church in support of this.
Finally, just as when women got the vote they weren’t imposing on society, so the gay community is not imposing anything on society. What they are doing is asking for the same freedoms as everyone else. I still have yet to hear a rational argument against equal marriage rights for anyone.

Ian: 1. I’m not sure what all the other meanings of “marriage” that you mention are. I’ve only ever understood it in its commonly used sense? In any case, I’m struggling to understand why changing the meaning of the term so that it becomes more vauge is going to be better for ANYONE? (gay or straight). If we had two separate terms, everyone would know what was meant and where they stood. Even campaigners against racism seemed to accept that the terms “black” and “white” had to stay because they were useful. The nearest analogy I can think of is that you’re arguing in favour of scrapping both terms and replacing them with the term “grey”. Just out of interest, if “marriage” were to be re-defined on the lines you’re asking for, what would the terms “husband” and “wife” mean?
2. Sorry, but prefacing the same response with “really” still doesn’t make it an argument! I’ve asked a question – “If “marriage” is re-defined to include same-sex couples, what’s to stop it being subsequently re-defined to include polygamous or incestuous relationships?” As yet, other than telling me “it’s not a valid argument”, you’ve not been able to give a reason why this could not come to pass.
3. I accept that the gay community might want people to call their relationship “marriage” in the same way as they call conventional marriages “marriage”. However, not everything is a “freedom”. I am a white male. I am not campaigning for the “right” to be called a “black female”. I have nothing against black people or female people – I just know that I’m not either and that’s just the way it is! Can you at least accept that the “right” to re-define “marriage” conflicts with the “right” to keep it as it is?


Bob T: I’m just on my way out so to pick one point at random:
At my request, as a justification for stopping same sex marriage you said “If “marriage” is re-defined to include same-sex couples, what’s to stop it being subsequently re-defined to include polygamous or incestuous relationships?”
I’m pointing out that this is not a valid justification because you are using the slippery slope argument. You are not arguing against gay marriage but against what you think it might lead to.
If you are against polygamous or incestuous marriage but have no problem with gay marriage then that is where you should set your barrier, not at the step before that. If, however, you are against gay marriage then that is the discrimination you need to justify.

Bob T. just a quick one while I’m waiting for my son. Please excuse the terseness as I’m typing on a phone.
Your third point. “Not everything is a freedom”, whilst true in some cases does not apply here. Being allowed to get married is a freedom that you and I can enjoy (I’m guessing) Why should it be a freedom for us but not for others? This is purely about definitions not immutable facts. No, you can’t change your colour or ethnicity but we can, manifestly, change the definition of marriage hence the whole point of this conversation.
And no, I’m afraid I can’t accept your last assertion as I don’t accept your ‘right’ to keep marriage as it is. You are not in charge of the definition of marriage.

But Bob, if one group of people don’t have a “right” to keep the definition of marriage as it is, what gives another group of people the “right” to change it simply because it doesn’t suit them as it is?

Ian: regarding your earlier comment, I think I can see what you’re getting at now – in terms of “slippery slope”. However, I still think the “step before it” argument is a valid one because whilst you say that I shouldn’t oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it might lead to incestuous marriage, surely you can see that such an argument could always be wheeled out in defence of “the next step” every time it came up? In other words, if, for argument’s sake, marriage is re-defined to include same-sex couples, and a few years afterwards there is a consultation on a further re-definition to include (say) marriage between uncles and nieces, would we then be having a variation on this argument where you’d be telling me I couldn’t oppose it on the grounds that it might lead to a further re-definition to include brothers and sisters? And if, following that, there’s a consultation on re-defining it to include brothers and sisters, will you then be telling me that I can’t oppose it on the grounds that it might lead to the subsequent inclusion of parents and children? (and so on).

If you still DO believe that it’s not valid to object on the grounds of “the next step”, are there ANY sorts of relationship between consenting adults of which you would NOT approve? If there is to be a line at all, where would you draw it?

There must be plenty of similar examples of exclusions. I was wondering about joining Mensa. Apparently, you need an IQ of more than (I dunno!) 150 to get in. Surely someone could demand a re-definition of “high intelligence” to make it more inclusive on the grounds that it was discriminatory? If it were then reduced to (say) 100, wouldthat not invite a repeat of the process to (say) 75…and so on until it became absolutely meaningless?

Bob T: Slippery slope. Firstly, lets remember what the discussion is about. You were giving arguments as to why you think gay marriage is wrong. Lets take two possible scenarios. a) You don’t disapprove of gay marriage but you do disapprove of polygamy. b) You disapprove of both gay marriage and polygamy. In scenario a you have no argument against gay marriage as you approve of it. In scenario b polygamy is irrelevant as the discussion is about gay marriage so you need to present an argument against gay marriage. That is why the slippery slope is a logical fallacy.

“are there ANY sorts of relationship between consenting adults of which you would NOT approve?” are you talking about relationships or marriage? If you actually mean relationships as you said then, looking at your sentence, the two key words are ‘consenting’ and ‘adults’ in which case, as long as no harm is done to a third party, no, it is none of my business what people do.

The Mensa example does not apply. Mesa is a club, just as a church is, they can set their own rules.

You other point: The one group that currently defines marriage is society as a whole. A society of which EVERYONE is a part, not just a select few or even a select majority. Why should some people have rights that others don’t share?

Ian:  As you’ve probably already guessed, I’m a “type b” person. I can now actually see your point about having to present an argument against gay marriage, but, unfortunately, I still consider (as well as all the other arguments!) that if you are objecting to something “because if you do it, something else bad could then happen”, to be a perfectly valid argument. In fact, it would be really daft to always have to “wait for the bad thing to happen before objecting to it”. Indeed, there can be no logic that would allow the re-definition of marriage to suit the gay community that could then NOT be subsequently used to further re-define it to suit any other minority interest (no matter how perverse)!

We’d end up in a sort of “Lewis Carroll situation” where “…words can mean whatever I want them to mean..” (which ultimately, I would submit, benefits nobody)!

On your other points, I’m not in the least bit convinced that there is no harm done to any third party, but it’s one of those situations where I can’t provide any evidence of that until it happens – by which time it will be too late. You keep saying that things always change and usually for the better, yet we have a society that is generally regarded as having rapildy declining moral standards. We even have (oh the irony!) a Prime Minister bemoaning the loss of our society’s “moral compass” – the same one that’s behind this consultation!

Finally, can there ever be such a thing as a “select” majority?!

Bob T:  There seems to be some confusion about what this law change is proposing. It is NOT proposing that gay marriage will be carried out in church, in fact it specifically excludes this. The consultation document is here.
This is specifically about creating equal rights within civil marriage. Nothing to do with the church.

Ian: I was thinking the other day about the various views on here, and was almost coming round to the idea that perhaps “the state” should only legally recognise ONE form of marriage – a “civil” marriage. That may or many not include gay marriage, depending on the wishes of the majority of the population (or are you against democracy too?).

IF any couple THEN wanted some sort of “religious” marriage ON TOP OF THAT, they should be free to “top up” with a church marriage, should they so wish. The state wouldn’t be obliged to recognise a church marriage – the state marriage would be the only legally recognised form.

Would that work? The only corollary proviso, of course, would be that no church would be obliged to perform any religious marriage that went against their teachings (and I don’t just mean same sex). As Bob T said: “their club, their rules”!

Bob T: so what you were moving towards in your last comment is actually what is being proposed. Civil marriage for couples of either or both sexes, and end to state based discrimination. The document specifically says that civil marriage “will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman” and continues “It will not be legally possible under these proposals for religious organisations to solemnize religious marriages for same-sex couples. There will therefore be no obligation or requirement for religious organisations or ministers of religion to do this. It will also not be possible for a same-sex couple to have a civil marriage ceremony on religious premises. Marriages of any sort on religious premises would still only be legally possible between a man and a woman.”

Come on @Ian, take that final step and support the right for equal civil marriage!

Ian: that’s most encouraging – thanks. I’ve not had a chance to read the consultation document fully, but it does appear, at first glance, to offer the safeguards I was looking for. Throughout this thread I (hope!) I’ve made it clear that I’ve no objection to gay marriage provided it can be differentiated from “straight” marriage in some way. This doesn’t QUITE do that, but it does seem to clearly differentiate between a “Civil” and a “religious” marriage. As things currently stand, a “marriage” in my church is not automatically recognised by the state anyway(I’d need a registrar present) and in any case, my own understanding of “marriage” is that it can’t be ended by a divorce. This is already an area where it differs from “civil” marriage. That being the case, I THINK (but will take a while to mull over it, if I may!) that I’d have no objection. Basically, provided I have the freedom to solemnize my marriage according to my beliefs AND there are safeguards to prevent any group seeking to impose its own definition of marriage on those who share my faith, then I think it would only be fair to let them solemnise theirs in their own way. What I have to do to make the state regard me as being “married” in the civil sense is of little interest to me. It’s “giving to Caeser what belongs to Caesar” but beyond that and the various financial implications, it doesn’t really mean anything to me – it’s the religious ceremony I regard as important.

Oddly, I’m actually wondering if, perhaps, the proposed safeguards for faith groups go a bit too far! It seems that NO religious ceremony would be allowed to solemnise a marriage between same sex couples. I have to say that if there was a religious group that COULD support such marriages, I’d have thought they ought to be allowed to? I think I heard a Quaker on the radio the other day syaing they’d like to (might have got that wrong), but if they do, I don’t see myself as having any right to object.

Bob T: Looks likes we’ll have to agree to agree! Thanks for the interesting back and forth.


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