Will Same-Sex Marriage Lead to Fathers Marrying Their Sons?

Jeremy Irons

Cover of Jeremy Irons

Actor Jeremy Irons was recently asked about the legalization of same-sex marriage. In response, he raised the question of whether or not a father could marry a son.

When I first heard that Irons spoke about a father marrying a son, I had inferred that he was just presenting the tired stock anti-same sex slippery slope fallacy in which it is claimed that if we allow same-sex marriage, then this will inevitably lead to allowing incest (and bestiality). The stock replies to this line of “reasoning” are to 1) point out that it is the slippery slope fallacy and 2) explain that allowing same-sex marriage no more allows incest (or bestiality) than does allowing different-sex marriage. After all, if different-sex couples can marry without a slide into different-sex incest and bestiality, then it would certainly seem to be the case that same-sex couples could marry without a slide into incest and bestiality.

However, Irons raised a more interesting point: if we allow same-sex marriage and this leads to allowing a father to marry his son, this could be used to work around the inheritance laws. After all, while a son would have to pay the inheritance tax on property he inherited from his father, he would not have to do so on property inherited from a deceased spouse. So, a father and son could get married not for the purpose of incest but for avoiding the inheritance tax. This idea might cause some confusion for certain Republicans—after all, this provides a way to avoid taxes but at the cost of allowing same-sex incestuous marriage.

While Irons did not explore all the ramifications, if anyone could marry anyone, then people could marry each other to get various spousal benefits (such as insurance coverage or green cards). While Irons’ point is interesting, it is easy enough to address these worries.

First, the claim that allowing same-sex marriage automatically entails that incestuous marriage be allowed is still the slippery slope fallacy. If accepting different-sex marriage does not warrant different sex-incest, then neither does same-sex marriage. And, of course, neither would warrant accepting bestiality. As such, there seems to be no reason to worry that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to fathers marrying their sons to avoid taxes.

Second, while the idea of a father marrying a son to avoid taxes seems shocking, the general problem would be the exploitation of marriage. This is not a problem unique to same-sex marriage. After all, people already exploit different-sex marriage. As a specific example, a man could marry a woman (who is not too closely related) so she can avoid paying the inheritance task.  Nothing about the current marriage laws forbids this.  To make the more general point, any advantageous exploitation of marriage that would become available to a same-sex couple with the legalization of same-sex marriage is already available to different-sex couples.

If such advantageous exploitations are the problem, then the solution would be fixing these problems rather than focusing unfairly on the idea that same-sex couples would avail themselves of existing marital exploits. For example, if there is a terrible worry that people would engage in same-sex marriage to avoid the inheritance tax, then the solution would be to require spouses to pay this tax (or eliminate it altogether). As another example, if there is grave concern that two guys will get married just so one guy can get health insurance, then the solution is to change the insurance laws. After all, if the concern is that marriage will be exploited, then the clear solution is to take away the exploitable advantages—that way we can be sure people are not marrying just to avoid a tax, get insurance or for some other similar reason.

Some people do imply that same-sex couples would be more likely to engage in such advantageous exploits than different-sex couples or even that people would pretend to be gay to gain such advantages.

One obvious response is that there seems to be no reason to think that same-sex couples would be any more (or less) likely to marry for advantages. As far as people pretending to be gay, that seems to be rather odd—after all, a person who is not gay and wants to marry for an advantageous exploit could simply find a person of the opposite sex. The idea of pretending to be gay might make for a plot device for a comedy, but is hardly something that would be commonly (or even uncommonly) done.

If the problem is that same-sex couples would have the same advantages as different-sex couples, then this would seem to be a mere expression of prejudice.

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13 Comments.

  1. What if we reverse the point?

    I mean, historically, marriage as a concept was something meant for exploitation. Only recently, or at least marginally (like in operas and novels) did marriage become a matter of love and affection FOR REAL. From this perspective, the whole idea of marriage, in history, was to see “what kids get what”, that is, inheritance, and that’s why we’d get so many arranged weddings. (And why adultery in many contexts, say, Enlightenment France, was so tolerated.) Which would provide good reasons to exclude same-sex couples: it’s all about producing kids and giving them inheritance. Since by then only heterossexuals could produce kids, only heterossexuals could marry. (Of course there’s much more to that, but this is a good enough summary, I’d say.)

    But then once we declare that no, marriage is not about money, land and estates, it is about love and affection (at last!), then it is only possible to deny same-sex couples legitimacy if we consider that love and affection between people of the same sex is impossible. Well, this would be an absurd claim, wouldn’t it? At least, it’s counterfactual.

    Funny enough, it seems that from this perspective Jeremy Irons’ claim about inheritance is a bigger problem for heterossexual marriages than for homossexual ones…

  2. Socrates Schultz

    The chances are the same as the current allowance of a father marrying his daughter or a mother marrying her son… ;-)

  3. How is it that a writer for “The Philosopher’s Magazine” does not know that the “slippery slope fallacy” is not, in itself a, fallacy? You think that the one group that would be immune from claiming folk fallacies would be professional philosophers.

  4. Joe Carter,

    I’m reasonably sure that the slippery slope fallacy is, by definition, a fallacy. Much as a white horse is, by definition, a horse. :)

    But here is the fallacy in detail, to lay to rest any concerns about my alleged ignorance:

    Slippery Slope
    Also known as: The Camel’s Nose
    Description:
    The Slippery Slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This “argument” has the following form:

    1. Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
    2. Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

    This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there are a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

    Naturally, if the steps linking X to Y can be properly presented, then the argument would not be fallacious. So, if someone could show, in a principle way, that allowing same-sex marriage would lead to allowing incestuous marriage then there would be no fallacy. However, the usual approach is to simply assert that if we allow same-sex marriage, then incest and bestiality will follow. Since the steps between these are not presented, the fallacy is being committed.

    Now, if you have a non-fallacious argument that shows that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to incest, then I would certainly like to see it.

  5. Oscar Cox,

    Good points. If marriage is for producing kids naturally with one other person and sorting out the distribution of property, then same sex couples would not be “eligible” for this sort of marriage. Of course, neither would different sex couples that did not want kids or could not have them.

    Also, as far as incest goes, it seems far more common between people of different sexes than the same-sex. So, a father would be less likely to marry his son than his daughter, which would be a heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman.

  6. ***This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim.***

    You’re implying that any enthymematic slippery slope claim is inherently fallacious unless proven otherwise. But there is not reason to assume such enthymatic claims are automatically fallacious because there is no reason to assume the arguments are intended to be deductive. Philosopher Brandon Watson has a good explanation here: http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2011/10/slippery-slope-camels-nose-thin-end-of.html

    But I think it can be put in a deductive form that is not fallacious. For example you say, “First, the claim that allowing same-sex marriage automatically entails that incestuous marriage be allowed is still the slippery slope fallacy.” But Irons is not saying, “X automatically entails Y.” What he is saying is that once the premises for X are accepted, those same premises can be used to conclude Y. On this point, he is correct and not committing a logical fallacy. He is not making a “If X, then Y” argument but an If X=Z and Y=Z then X = Y.

    The problem with the same-sex marriage arguments are that you cannot accept the premises that make it acceptable and deny them when they are used for forms of marriage that you do not like.

  7. “What he is saying is that once the premises for X are accepted, those same premises can be used to conclude Y. On this point, he is correct and not committing a logical fallacy.”

    I’m not going to argue about what he really meant.

    But I think you’ll find that even if this is what he meant, its still bad, for almost exactly the same reasons that slippery slope arguments are bad. An argument, or a series of premises, can support a conclusion without being dispositive.

  8. You’re implying that any enthymematic slippery slope claim is inherently fallacious unless proven otherwise. But there is not reason to assume such enthymatic claims are automatically fallacious because there is no reason to assume the arguments are intended to be deductive.

    I’m not claiming that any slippery slope style claim used as the conclusion of an argument makes that argument a fallacy (only arguments can be fallacies in the technical sense; claims are true or false). My claim is that when someone engages in reasoning of the sort presented in my description of the slippery slope, then the slippery slope fallacy has occurred. The inference that we will get incest from allowing same sex marriage is usually just such a slippery slope fallacy since those making the argument tend to not provide reasons to accept this result.

    Also, the slippery slope is an informal fallacy, not a deductive fallacy (that is, an invalid deductive argument).

    What he is saying is that once the premises for X are accepted, those same premises can be used to conclude Y. On this point, he is correct and not committing a logical fallacy. He is not making a “If X, then Y” argument but an If X=Z and Y=Z then X = Y.

    I’m not entirely sure what he means. However, as you say: from X=Y and Y=Z then X=Z can be correctly inferred. However, there is the question of whether X=Y and the question of whether Y=Z. What are you taking the X, Y and Z to be?

    The problem with the same-sex marriage arguments are that you cannot accept the premises that make it acceptable and deny them when they are used for forms of marriage that you do not like.

    Which premises are you talking about? I support same sex marriage on the basis that consenting adults should not be denied the right to marry on the basis of gender. If accepting different-sex marriage does not entail that different-sex incest is acceptable, then accepting same-sex marriage does not entail that same-sex incest is acceptable. So, if we can consistently reject incest while accepting different-sex marriage, we can do so for same-sex marriage. So, if a person cannot marry her brother on the basis of a principle that excludes incest, she also cannot marry her sister. That seems consistent.

  9. Generally for the purpose of immigration. If someone marries solely for the purpose of gaining a visa. If the immigration authorities decide that is the purpose of the marriage then they can deny a visa.

    In the case of a tax dodge, the tax authorities could argue the same point in court.

  10. I thought Jeremy Irons was an intelligent person and I hereby revise my opinion unless this was meant as tongue-in-cheek. As explained, all the same arguments can be applied to heterosexual marriage and incest within it. That’s why we have laws against incest.

  11. doris wrench eisler,

    Certain kinds of actors are renowned for playing intelligent people on screen. But that’s just acting. They can be really stupid in real life.

  12. Doris,

    He could still be intelligent. Maybe his scriptwriter for that scene wasn’t. :)

  13. On Baseball, God, Pessoa and More - NYTimes.com - pingback on April 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm

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