Will Same-Sex Marriage Lead to Bestiality?

The Lone Ranger Rides Again

The Lone Ranger Rides Again (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One stock “argument” against same-sex marriage is that legalizing it will put us on the slippery slope to bestiality. That is, if the Lone Ranger can marry Tonto, then he can marry Silver. This line of “reasoning” is easy enough to defeat.

First, this is an example of the classic slippery slope fallacy. Second, there is fact that if allowing different-sex marriage between humans does not lead to or warrant bestiality, then it would follow by analogy that allowing same-sex marriage between humans would not lead to or warrant bestiality. After all, if Adam marrying Eve does not warrant Adam marring a snake, then Adam marry Steve would not do so either.

While the bestiality argument is typically presented as a fallacious slippery slope, it is worth considering whether or not a proper argument can be presented that would show that allowing same-sex marriage entails that bestiality must also be accepted. Obviously, merely claiming that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to human-goat marriage is not enough. What would be needed would be logical reasons that we cannot accept same-sex marriage without being force by consistency to allow human-animal marriage.

Perhaps the most plausible way to argue for this is to begin by contending that same-sex marriage is justified by the principle that a person can marry anyone he wants to marry. This would, of course, justify same sex marriage: if a person can marry anyone he wants to marry, then he can marry another man. And a woman can marry another woman. It would also seem to justify human-animal marriage: if a person can marry anyone he wants, then he can marry a goat. As such, if we justify same-sex marriage on this principle, then it would also justify human-animal marriages. It would also justify human-rock marriages, human-iPad marriages and so on. A person could, on this principle, marry anything.

Now, if it is assumed that a person can marry anyone he wants, then this would also include marrying people who do not want to get married, people who are already married, and even Catholic nuns and priests.

Obviously enough, this principle leads to absurd results. As such, if this were the justifying principle for same-sex marriage, then there would be an excellent reason to reject same-sex marriage. However, if there is another principle (or principles) that would justify same-sex marriage while avoiding absurdity, then this principle could be sensibly used.

One obvious avenue of inquiry is to consider the principle that justifies different-sex marriage. While some might assume that different-sex marriage needs no justification, that would seem to beg the question. Naturally, if what justifies different-sex marriage would also apply to same-sex marriage, then there would not be a principled way to forbid one while accepting the other. However, if the justifying principle for different-sex marriage did not apply to same-sex marriage, then one could be allowed while the other is consistently forbidden.

One approach that people have taken is to argue that different-sex marriage is justified by a principle involving natural procreation. This principle would, obviously enough, not apply to same-sex marriage. However, this principle would lead to its own absurd results, namely that different-sex couples who could not have children or choose not to have children would not be permitted to marry. As such, unless we are willing to forbid such people from being married, then the procreation justification must be abandoned.

Once the procreation principle is out, there seem to be no non-ad hoc or non-question begging principles left that would allow different-sex marriage while forbidding same-sex marriage. For example, if a principle involving love is used, that could apply to different-sex and same-sex marriage (and, of course, we obviously do not take love to be a necessary condition for legal marriage). As another example, if someone claims that the principle is that men can only marry women, this would beg the question. It would be on par with arguing that mixed-race marriage is forbidden because the principle is that a person can only marry a person of the same ethnicity.

One worry at this point is that if any principle that warrants different-sex marriage would also warrant same-sex marriage, then it would seem that we would slide into human-animal marriage. Fortunately, this can be avoided in a principled manner.

Intuitively, marriage is a legal and moral agreement that requires the consent of both parties. Animals cannot, obviously enough, even understand marriage let alone provide consent. As such, a human cannot marry an animal. An animal can no more marry than it can make a promise or tell a lie. As such, same-sex marriage can be allowed without accepting a slide to human-animal marriage.

It might be countered that by taking marriage to require consent I am engaged in an ad hoc or question begging defense. After all, one might say, if marriage can include a man marrying a man, why can it not include a lack of consent and comprehension on the part of one partner, such as a goat? After all, if marriage is being redefined, why not redefine it completely?

The obvious reply is to note that if marriage can include a man marrying a woman, why can it not include a lack of consent and comprehension on the part of one partner, such as a goat? That is, if marriage is allowed, why not allow it for everyone and everything? However, if marriage (like debating or lying) requires certain capabilities (such as the ability to understand the relationship and consent to it), then humans can marry humans but not animals.

 

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20 Comments.

  1. Anthony Juan Bautista

    The bestiality argument is a silly straw man used by both sides of this debate.

    Logically however, same-sex marriage DOES lead to legalized incest. (I think incest is still outlawed in half the states.) I personally could care less–I practice a very Libertarian ethic. But once gay marriage is law of the land, “brotherly love” must logically follow ; )

  2. Reducing the voting age to 18 was the start of a slippery slope to votes for babies!

    I think these arguments arise from the misguided idea that boundary lines must be based on fundamental principles.

  3. It won’t end with babies. In Kansas fertilized eggs will get the vote.

  4. Unfertilized eggs demand equal rights!

  5. Anthony Juan Bautista

    While I get the humor, the slippery slope is absolutely alive and well: think Europe (or California) from labor to environmental laws. (Politicians like establishing and granting and expanding neat new rights!) In 1973 we made abortion legal for adult women. Today in 2/3 of the states, a 13 y.o. girl can receive this surgical intervention without any adult supervision, counseling or consent. (In contradistinction, if she breaks her forearm, no ER staff will touch her until the parent shows up.)

    Sliiiiiippppppppperrryyyyyyy…..

  6. For me personally this is obvious. Marriage as discussed is about the legal status/ privileges only. As a minimum requirement you’d expect mutual consent between the married parties. Animals as pointed out can not agree to anything in a legally binding way.

    Also I do not see an argument for incest, because as far as I’m aware there is scientific evidence that incest causes genetic disorders. If that is the case you can argue harm, which in my view is the only plausible argument.

  7. Logically however, same-sex marriage DOES lead to legalized incest.

    By the same logic, Oedipal incest must be legal today, since marriage has long been allowed between men and women. But it is not, and there is no independent reason to think that it ever will be. Therefore, your proposed form of inference does not hold.

  8. Anthony Juan Bautista

    To BLS:

    I don’t follow you. Pls expound.

    And really it’s not MY personal inference; rather, it’s an obvious inference from legal coherence, directly stemming from key propositions that directly support gay marriage (most specifically equal treatment). My understanding of the pro gay marriage argument is that there’s no contemporary societal, rational, or legal premise by which to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. If this is true, almost certainly the same handful of pro gay marriage propositions must legally hold for sibling marriage. And there’s likely 10,000 lawyers out there who are ready to make a name for themselves to prove it.

    We’ll see how SCOTUS twists itself into a pretzel ruling on Prop 8. Should be fascinating ; )

  9. Anthony Juan Bautista

    To BLS:

    I read your comment again; and I think I disagree with you. If the courts “see” a right to gay marriage, what this might logically imply is that outlawing Oedipal incest is (and has ALWAYS been) an infringement of equal treatment.

    In 1973 SCOTUS didn’t “grant” the right to an abortion–rather, it determined that the right existed for 200 years. (So, just because abortion was outlawed in 50 states didn’t mean that the Constitutional right wasn’t there, all along.) Hence, my right to marry my biological brother might have been established in 1789–we’ll see.

  10. My understanding of the pro gay marriage argument is that there’s no contemporary societal, rational, or legal premise by which to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. If this is true, almost certainly the same handful of pro gay marriage propositions must legally hold for sibling marriage.

    How’s that?

  11. Anthony Juan Bautista

    BLS:

    From the 9th Circuit:
    In his ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Judge Walker said the state’s marriage law “both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”

    Is genetic similarity a “rational” classification by which to deny two people a right to marry?

  12. Anthony,

    While it is true that there is an expansion of laws, this inference would not be a slippery slope-after all, we have evidence that this does occur. However, inferring that allowing same sex-marriage must lead to bestiality or incest is rather a different matter. Now, one could (as you seem to be doing) claim that there is a legal mechanism that would allow for such laws to be passed. However, that is rather different from proof that one thing must lead to another.

  13. Anthony Juan Bautista

    Agreed. But society is not at the helm here–at least not entirely. As regards gay marriage, half of American society already “spoke” via the ballot box rejecting gay marriage (for the worse, I think). But the lawyers are now in charge of this debate–not society at large.

    Hence my cynicism.

  14. Anthony,

    It depends on the principle that is used to justify marriage. If the principle is that a person has a right to marry any person they wish (we’ll leave out animals, corpses, trees and such for now), then this would allow for incestuous marriage. There are, however, numerous principles that would warrant same-sex marriage without allowing for incestuous marriage.

    Also, what is probably most important for the debate, is that accepting same-sex marriage no more entails accepting incest than does accepting different-sex marriage. If one does, the other does and this would not be a special problem for same-sex marriage. If one does not, then the other does not.

  15. Is genetic similarity a “rational” classification by which to deny two people a right to marry?

    Sure. Incest creates conditions of easy social domination (undermining consent), fosters anti-social role models, and produces issues with offspring. These are all rational considerations, and in the case of incest, you can worry about each of them without appealing to prejudice. In contrast, even from a vulgar hetero-normative point of view, homosexual coupling does not foster anti-social role modelling, it does not result in any conjoined offspring, and is only entered into by consenting adults.

  16. Anthony Juan Bautista

    To BLS:

    Says you! ; )

    I’m no lawyer, but with gay marriage as law of the land, your thesis carries a very heavy burden of proof.

    I do work in medicine/genetics–science can sometimes solve (or at least predict) the problems of co-sanguine sexual relations. We currently do not deny heterosexual marriage to couples wherein we know with mathematical certainty that some proportion of the offspring will possess a disease-associated genotype (think cystic fibrosis, or sickle cell).

    I’m not disagreeing with your points–but we both are somewhat blindly speculating on how lawyers and judges will “see” this issue 20 years from now.

    And my opinion is that historically, rights rarely regress–they usually expand.

  17. Anthony Juan Bautista

    Mike:

    I just read your piece on Irons–I enjoyed it!

    As I mentioned to BLS, rights and freedoms historically expand, and we all are speculating on how some unelected judges will “see” this issue 20 yrs from now (meaning, it won’t be a democratic process). Also, the burden to deny rights grows heavier with each decade (Title IX immediately comes to mind).

    So to assume we will draw a line at gay coupling is somewhat ahistorical, I feel.

  18. I do work in medicine/genetics–science can sometimes solve (or at least predict) the problems of co-sanguine sexual relations. We currently do not deny heterosexual marriage to couples wherein we know with mathematical certainty that some proportion of the offspring will possess a disease-associated genotype (think cystic fibrosis, or sickle cell).

    For present purposes, I’m not interested in giving the necessary and sufficient conditions for couplings legitimately endorsed by the state. I’m only interested in making the narrow point that same-sex marriage has no logical connection to incest.

    I’m not disagreeing with your points–but we both are somewhat blindly speculating on how lawyers and judges will “see” this issue 20 years from now.

    Well, wait, I’m not speculating. I said I don’t see any logical connection between two things.

    And my opinion is that historically, rights rarely regress–they usually expand.

    Depends on circumstances. When you live in the land of plenty and peace, sure. But the future is grim, and the recent past paints a very different portrait of what is to come. Consider that there was a time when the very idea of ‘free speech zones’ was unthinkable, where habeas corpus was sacrosanct. Rights collapse.

  19. Anthony Juan Bautista

    BLS:

    The logical connection is that in both instances, someone’s “rights” are being denied (theoretically). IE, the logical connection is that both scenarios are (or may be) addressed by the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection/access).

    I think we both agree that in “land of plenty” societies, rights are established (or rediscovered) all the time–in the US, this occurs at the municipal, state, and federal levels. So discovery of rights (and the denial thereof) is the logical nexus as regards the phenomenon of outlawing both same-sex marriage and consanguineous marriage. To wit, in both instances:

    (1) There is a “right” recently discoverd (now, or in the future)
    (2) That right is being denied
    (3) The reason for denying the right does not meet some new or rediscovered threshold or legal test (judges like tests!)

    And we both seem to agree: the burden or level of scrutiny for denying legal rights grows greater as lands become more plentiful.

    Our speculation is that we’re assuming we know what legal discoveries (and tests/thresholds) are around the bend, as regards a person’s “rights” and denial thereof.

  20. The logical connection is that in both instances, someone’s “rights” are being denied (theoretically). IE, the logical connection is that both scenarios are (or may be) addressed by the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection/access).

    Sure, but the rationale for this interpretation is expressed in terms of, and is argumentatively dependent upon, contemporary mainstream opinions about the constitution of persons. According to today’s standards — today’s correct standards, I might add — gay people are functional people and capable of being good citizens. There is plenty of reason to deny that the same can be said of incestuous couples, since they fail to function as persons in every sense one might think of: somatic, psychological, and social.

    And we both seem to agree: the burden or level of scrutiny for denying legal rights grows greater as lands become more plentiful.

    Not quite. I said of peace and plenty. A land of plenty can still be full of bigots. But notice that the discussion of “a land of peace and plenty” has no connection whatsoever with projections into the future, if I were to make any. (Though I didn’t. And wouldn’t, because frankly I think the future is grim, for various reasons that are not relevant to the present topic.)

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