Saturday, August 04, 2012

There is no ‘slippery slope’

You would think that there’s one argument that the opponents of marriage equality wouldn’t make because it’s so laughably silly. In New Zealand, however, it’s emerged as one of their main arguments against marriage equality. So, let’s get this clear: There’s no such thing as a “slippery slope”.

It’s almost possible to feel the desperation as our opponents attempt to convince mainstream New Zealanders that if loving same-gender couples are permitted to commit to each other in the same way that opposite-gender couples can, then it must inevitably mean we’ll have to allow, in the words of a writer in a rightwing American publication quoted by our opponents, “legalized polygamy and ‘polyamory’ (group marriage).” That’s utter nonsense.

In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the modern world to extend some form of legal recognition to the relationships of loving same-gender couples when they established “Registered Partnerships”. In 2012, they joined the growing list of countries that have established full marriage equality. The fact is, in the generation since the establishment of at least some legal recognition of same-gender couples’ relationships, no country has legalised polygamy or polyamory—not one. Our opponents may claim that people are saying it should be legalised, but that only acknowledges their freedom to advocate anything in a democratic society—it’s not the same thing as enacting it in law!

Allowing loving same-gender couples to marry means they’ll have the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-gender couples—no changes to any other law are required to allow all loving couples to marry. However, to allow marriages with multiple partners, dozens of laws would also have to be changed, everything from inheritance, to child custody, next-of-kin recognition—all of these things and many more would require separate law changes, and that means an entirely new institution. None of that is true when allowing same-gender couples to marry, so there’s absolutely no truth the claim that marriage equality “has” to mean legalised group marriages.

This line of argument is not only dishonest and misleading, it’s also hypocritical. Our rightwing opponents in New Zealand frequently cite the fact that some people on our side of the debate sometimes argue for polygamy or polyandry, but they never mention that there are plenty of heterosexuals who do as well. They’re certainly not arguing that heterosexuals should be forbidden to marry because some of them advocate for polygamy or polyamory. Funny, that.

The reality is, all citizens have the right to advocate for what they believe in—not just us, and not just our opponents. This freedom of expression is one of the most prized and fiercely protected rights in free and democratic societies, as well it should be. A free society can certainly handle debate on issues, and those who want polygamy or polyamory are certainly free to present their case. Whether they do or not has nothing whatsoever to do with marriage equality for same-gender couples.

New Zealand’s current Marriage Act limits marriage to two people who must be (by implication) of opposite genders, and it forbids marriage among close relatives. Our opponents argue that if loving same-gender couples are allowed to marry, therefore the ban not only on multiple marriages, but also the ban on incestuous marriage must also be removed because it, too, is discrimination. But if their argument was really valid, then it would be valid regardless of whether or not same-gender couples are forbidden to marry. However, no court has ever agreed with their claim, and extending marriage to loving same-gender couples would not change that reality: The proposed bill does nothing to take away the prohibition of close-relative marriage.

Finally, it’s highly offensive to suggest that loving same-gender couples’ relationships are not in any way the same as those of opposite gender couples’, that our relationships can only be compared to polygamy or polyamory or—in the case of our more extreme opponents—those who want to “marry” an animal or their toaster. All of these claims are simply distractions designed to scare people, and they’re all utter nonsense.

So, when New Zealand enacts marriage equality, the only “slippery slope” will be the one leading to happiness and greater well-being for all loving, committed couples who choose to marry.

Previous posts in this series:

Marriage is not being ‘redefined'
Why civil unions aren’t enough

Next up: The people DO decide

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