I support gay marriage on the principle that the Government should not be in the marriage business. To me marriage combines two unrelated components: a legal contract for asset accumulation/division plus a religious component that creates a moral contract between two people witnessed by the religious community. Marriage is one of the last vestiges where Religion and State are intertwined. The government controls marriage licensing, determining who can and cannot marry, and requires a religious ceremony to finalize the contract. While two atheists can have a completely secular marriage in which the religious ceremony is replaced by a Justice of the Peace witnessing the exchange of vows, the State will not recognize a completely religious ceremony, where vows are exchanged in a religious context but the newlyweds refuse to obtain a marriage license.
While Western countries have removed barriers to the issuing of marriage licenses to homosexuals, movement by religions to recognize such marriages has been glacial by comparison. The Roman Catholic Church, most Protestant sects, mainstream Jewish sects and all of Islam refuse to recognize gay marriage. Part of the success of the Gay Rights movement has been due to the equation of gay marriage to the American Civil Rights movement of the 20th century, particularly the state laws that prevented interracial marriage and the attitudes supporting those laws that the Civil Rights movement overturned through non-violent protest.
One of the arguments employed by supporters of traditional marriage was that by legalizing same-sex unions, Society is placed on a slippery slope whereby other non-traditional practices such as polygamy and incest become the next in line for legitimacy. Samantha Allen confronts this challenge in her piece “Consensual Incest is Rape.” In the article Allen, who supports gay marriage, takes issue with the attempt by those calling for the decriminalizing of incest between consenting adults to hitch their issue to the gay marriage movement in the same way the gay marriage movement attached itself to the civil rights movement. Referring to a pro-incest blogger, Allen writes, “Pullman tries to boost his marriage equality credentials by also promoting the legalization of same-sex marriage but a more apt description of affairs would be that he wants to hitch incest to the same-sex marriage wagon. In his post “Gay Marriage and Incest in the US,” he tries to link same-sex marriage with incestuous marriage by saying that both take place “between consenting adults,” they “don’t hurt anybody,” they are both “subject to discrimination,” and that there is “no rational reason” for their prohibition. “Gays and lesbians do not choose their orientation and people do not choose the parents to whom they are born,” he adds, in a staggering leap of logic.”
Unfortunately Allen’s argumentative skills are lacking in the piece. She is unable to muster a defense against writer Keith Pullman, whom Allen refers to as “adult incest advocate” except by using the words “staggering leap of logic.” I have not visited Pullman’s website nor do I have any interest in his arguments advocating the legalization of incest, but I find it interesting to see supporters of gay marriage who base their arguments on civil rights squirm when the same arguments they used are turned against them to justify practices which they find as heinous as the religious find gay sex. Allen concludes her piece stating flatly, “Supporters of incest are not part of the marriage equality movement,” but does little to explain why that’s the case.
In her article Allen’s sole weapon that separates gay marriage from incest is power. She quotes incest survivor McKenzie Phillips, ““[T]here really is no such thing as consensual incest due to the inherent power a parent has over a child,” she said. “So I wouldn’t necessarily call it a consensual relationship at this time,” although a year earlier she described sex with her father John Phillips as just that on Oprah. Allen quotes psychotherapist Robi Ludwig on Phillips’ incest, “But you can’t say it’s consensual, because there’s always a power imbalance when it comes to a parent and child,” even when both parent and child are both adults.
It’s no surprise that Samantha Allen resorts to the issue of power, since Leftist thought is based on the assumption that the unequal distribution of power underlies all conflict. In fact the imbalance of power between the sexes is one reason why traditional Feminism has been opposed to marriage. Since men always had more power in our society it was impossible for women to be treated fairly in marriage. It’s only recently that feminism has evolved to accept marriage, and usually only within the context of gay marriage.
But power is a poor choice against incest. It fails to address the issue of incestuous siblings, for example, who lacked the “power imbalance when it comes to a parent and child,” yet I doubt that Allen would support incestuous marriage between adult brothers or a brother/sister pair with equal power. By using power imbalance to ban marriage between parent and child, the usage of the term implies that marriages require a balance of power. Since power can take many forms this opens up a whole new arena for restricting marriage.
Leaving aside the issue of the subjectivity of power (Who defines it? The State? The marrying parties themselves?) this usage of the power c0uld ban marriages between adults of differing financial backgrounds, since the wealthier party in a marriage would have more power than the poorer one. It would ban marriage between adults of different ages, since an older, more experienced partner would conceivably have more power than a younger less experienced one. Alternately the younger person in such a relationship could have more power since youth is valued more highly in our society than age, putting the older spouse at a disadvantage. Finally the imbalance of power would ban all marriages between whites and minorities since white privilege by definition gives the white person more power than the minority.
The result of this would be laws banning marriage between whites and non-whites, between social classes, and between those of different ages. Congratulations Ms. Allen, you’ve recreated the restrictions of Victorian England or the the American South prior to the 1970s.
The only way for a progressive to avoid the slippery slope that ends up undermining her argument supporting gay marriage is to give up on the concept of traditional marriage entirely and take the libertarian view. There any number of adults of varying sexes can have contracts, and the age of consent becomes the line at which a child is recognized as being old enough to be a partner in a binding legal contract. Religions are then free to continue to marry as they see fit. If a Mormon sect wants to marry one man to multiple women, so be it. Similarly if the Catholic Church refuses to marry two women it is free to do so because of religi0us freedom. The role of the State then becomes the enforcer of contracts, a role that it has had throughout history and one that does not come into conflict with religious and personal freedom.
The problem for progressives like Ms. Allen is that they seek to expand the role of the State in people’s lives, the opposite of libertarians. While a libertarian believes the government should be limited and as small as possible, the progressive views government as a tool to create a society based on progressive ideals. There is little difference between progressives on the Left and conservatives on the Right in this regard, since both see the State as a means to their different ends. This is why government ballooned under Reagan in the 1980s and Bush in the 2000s, just as it has grown under Obama over the past 6 years. It also explains why progressives have encouraged censorship and curtailed basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion under Obama just as the conservatives did under Reagan in the 1980s.
But keeping the government in the marriage business will present logical dilemmas such as incestuous marriage or polygamy, making sure the ground beneath the feet of progressives is icy and sloped. Advocates for such unpopular views simply need to follow in the footsteps of the progressives and wait for legal cases and popular opinion to swing their way. In the meantime those on the Right including libertarians such as myself will enjoy watching progressives like Allen rocket down the icy slope.