Photo from the Fearfacts Exposed blog
The Anglican Church commissions into same-sex couples and ordaining gay people have just released their reports and, true to form, Fairfax have released a grossly misleading article about it, appearing in between “Another student auctions her virginity” and “Why are couples taking #aftersex selfies?” in their Love & Sex section.
The headline is the most inaccurate part. Firstly, it’s not a fair reflection of what’s being proposed. It dishonestly portrays a church split as some kind of apartheid for gay people, when in fact all the Ma Whea Commission are saying is that without some kind of compromise between the various factions who disagree on gay marriage and ordination (among other issues), the church may have to split (please note: there would be queer people and straight people on both sides of such a split). This could happen in a planned way (as in option H) or in an unplanned way as people dissatisfied with the decision leave the church in protest (which could happen with any of the options).
Anyway, as the article admits, that’s only one of ten possible options the report has put forward for how the church might proceed. Another option is “Adopt a New Understanding … [which] would not present any bar to those seeking blessing who were engaged in a same sex relationship. A rightly ordered relationship could include those in a same sex relationship.”
The report writers do not recommend any of the ten options (though it’s clear they’d favour some over others) because that’s not their job. Now that the reports are out, the church has to decide between the ten options (or some other option).
Please note that I make these observations as someone who believes the church is guilty of centuries of institutional and personal oppression for its collusion in enforcing patriarchal gender binaries, and wishes for the church to repent of this, make amends and remove all gender-based restrictions on sexual partners, marriage, church leadership etc.
Three reasons slippery slope arguments are stupid:
1. Slippery slope arguments make you look like you can’t articulate a proper argument against what’s actually being discussed. “Why is this bad? Because it could lead to something bad happening.”
2. You can use them to say pretty much whatever you want:
If we allow straight people to marry, what next? Gay people wanting to marry too?
If we allow blacks and whites to marry, what next? Gay people wanting to marry too?
If we ban gay marriage, what next? Banning straight marriage?
If we let gay people raise kids, what next? Letting single parents raise kids?
If we make alcohol legal, what next? P?
If taxes on cigarettes go up, what next? Taxes on rich people going up? (I wish!)
If we change the time-honoured tradition of modern Western marriage, what next? Changing the time-honoured traditions of drink-driving and domestic violence?
If we eliminate gender restrictions on marriage, what next? Elimination of gender inequality in straight marriages?
If gay people are allowed to marry, what next? Elimination of alienation, victimisation and mental health issues among gay youth?
If gay people are allowed to marry, what next? I might have to buy them a wedding present?
3. Slippery slope arguments understand a change through a constructed narrative, rather than looking at the specific phenomenon and the actual history of change.
Swift recourse to slippery slope arguments implies that the only lens through which you can understand something is in part of a broad category of “changes to ‘traditional’ marriage” or “strange new developments” or “things my pastor told me God doesn’t like.”
This is actually a serious moral deficiency insofar as it displays a lack of ability to analyse the specific significance of something and how it affects people and society. So gay people in loving, mutual relationships are equated with sex addicts, paedophiles and men who have sex with dolphins.
Worse, proponents of slippery slope arguments project their own failures of moral imagination onto their opponents. Instead of listening and responding to the actual arguments of those who are arguing for (e.g.) gay marriage, they caricature their opponents’ moral logic into a simple reverse of their own: I want to preserve ‘traditional’ marriage. Therefore, You want to change ‘traditional’ marriage.
But “changing ‘traditional’ marriage” probably isn’t the best way of explaining the history of gay rights, and there’s certainly no alliance of polygamists and cousin-marriers plotting with gay people on what their next blow against ‘traditional’ marriage will be. If there’s any plotting, it will be about how to further increase the rights and respect of LGBTI people (see second-to-last statement in #2 above).
Of course, the increasing focusing of morality around individual freedoms, developing throughout (post-)modernity, may have something to do with the increasing support for LGBTI rights. (Or with why the marriage rights of individuals is a more important moral issue to most NZers than our ballooning economic inequality.) But individualism/liberalism can’t account for the entirety of the motivations and arguments for gay marriage. Moreover, the recent law change is the removal of a gender restriction, not a liberalisation of relationships.
Anyway, the trend towards individualism/liberalism doesn’t just mean “changes to ‘traditional’ marriage.” It’s just as much ‘to blame’ for the rise of the nuclear family, freedom of religion, and freedom to publish verbal diarrhoea about slippery slopes on the internet. Where were the slippery slope arguments then?
Two occasions where modified versions of slippery slope arguments might be OK:
1. Pointing out the logical implications of people’s assertions. This isn’t really a slippery slope argument so much as an examination of the wider scope of someone’s moral logic.
For example, if someone says “I think everyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want, so long as they consent” you can respond “So a brother and sister should be allowed to marry?” or “So one woman should be allowed to marry three men and a consenting goose?”
In which case the response is either, “Yes, I suppose you’re right, I’m happy to let people do what they want” or (more likely) “Hmmm, no, I’ll rephrase. I mean everyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want, so long as they consent and so long as it doesn’t harm them or others.”
And then – and here’s the important part – you get into a more constructive debate about which relationships we should see as inherently harmful, and why… and each case can be examined separately.
Of course this requires actually listening to what someone is saying and analysing their moral logic. For example, If someone’s moral logic is “I believe most people should be encouraged to enter healthy, lifelong, supportive marriages with people they love, and I don’t believe any particular gender roles are necessary components of a healthy marriage” the implications are going to be quite different to the liberal-permissive logic often assumed by slippery-slope proponents.
2. When there is an actual connection between what’s happening now and what might be the logical next step… and where the current step would actually make it easier for the next step to happen.
This is particularly useful if what is happening now is generally seen as harmless, but what might happen in the future is not. In this case, a slippery slope argument could form part of a range of considerations, showing that the consequences of what is happening now may be wider than people may think.
A good example might be expanding the powers of the GCSB. Even if you support some functions of the GCSB, we all know that all-encompassing Big Brother-esque powers is going too far, and it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Since we can observe an international process of increasing powers of surveillance agencies and reducing human liberties and privacy, particularly since 9/11, it makes sense to call place the current GCSB bill in this context and let possible future developments enter into our considerations. (In fact, maybe we should have thought more about these ‘slippery slopes’ when the GCSB first opened, or when the Terrorism Suppression Act was passed, etc.)
Obviously, this is very different to gay marriage / polygamy etc. The connections are a lot closer, and the various ‘steps’ are a lot more gradual and difficult to examine/evaluate separately. Moreover, since the laws are complex the process is a lot easier to understand than the individual developments – again unlike gay marriage.
Since I wrote my last blog about homosexuality, I noticed that Colin Craig has been debating in the Waikato Times. He claims to have found a lot of scientific research proving his contention that “adopting a gay lifestyle is a choice”.
What he says makes for an interesting follow-up to my blog. The interesting thing is that Craig’s research doesn’t really give any evidence whatsoever that homosexuality is a choice (apart from the title of one of the books). The only way it could appear this way is if you’re viewing it through the reductive individualistic either/or lens that assumes if something isn’t completely predestined by your genes, it must be a free choice.
In fact, Craig’s research, even in his own words, does a remarkably good job of backing up what I said in my blog:
“[homosexuality is] far more complicated than either being a slave to some mysterious ‘gay gene’ or waking up one day and ‘deciding to be gay’ … While there may be some biological aspects and some choice aspects to sexuality … our sexuality is [also] to a large extent socially constructed”.
(Actually, and ironically, after reading Craig’s research I realised I was being overly generous to the choice aspects and not generous enough to the biological aspects.)
So here’s what Colin Craig has to say about sexual orientation research (grammatical errors and condescending tone quoted as written):
For a start I highly recommend looking at the work of the Human Genome Project.
Frankly these are some of the best minds when it comes to genetic makeup and it’s influences. They looked specifically at genetics and causality. Dr Collins the head of the project team summarises by saying ‘‘.. sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations’’.
As well here are some authors/researchers that have written about this issue. Please note that I am only quoting authors who are either Gay or bisexual themselves (except perhaps for Greenberg who describes himself as a ‘‘social liberal”). It cannot therefore be claimed that they have any bias against gay people in what they have said. My best suggestion for those interested is to try and get these books through your local library.
Kirk and Madsen. (After the Ball [Book]) .. ‘‘..sexual orientation, for most humans, seems to be a product of a complex interaction between innate pre-dispositions and environmental factors during childhood and early adolescence.’’ Dr j de Cecco. If you seduce a straight person can you make then Gay? [Book]) ‘‘ ..scientific conclusion shows that life-long, exclusive homosexuality, as articulated by gay rhetoric, is more a statement about the culture in which it occurs than the essence of homosexuality.’’
Dr. V Williams (Queer by choice [Book]) ‘‘ my conclusions question some of the fundamental basis upon which the gay and lesbian rights movement has been built’’.
Jennie Ruby (Off our Backs [Book]) ‘‘.. I don’t think lesbians are born .. I think they are made’’.
Dr Golomok/Dr Tasker (Do parents influence the Sexual Orientation of their children?
Findings from a longitudinal study of Lesbian Families. [Research study: Developmental Pyschology 1999v.32] ) Outcomes: 15% of children in Lesbian families went on to have same sex relationships compared to 0% from heterosexual families.
Jan Clausen (Apples and Oranges [Book]) ‘‘ What has got to stop is the rigging of history to make the ‘‘either/or’’ look permanent and universal’’.
Dr D Greenberg (The construction of Homosexuality [Book/Research]). Comment by Chicago University: ‘‘The idea of static homosexual orientation or essence simply does not hold up against the huge variety of homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual patterns.’’
In any case, this response points out that Craig’s contribution is “not only wrong, but irrelevant”. Even if Craig is right about the science behind homosexuality, it’s still a completely separate matter to the “moral and ethical questions” of whether there is anything wrong with homosexuality, or whether gay marriage should be legalised.
So we only really have two ways of understanding human traits and behaviours:
1) Biology, genes, being ‘born that way’.
2) Free choice.
A common tendency in popular opinion and discussion is to choose one of these two, and use it to explain something (crime or financial success or sporting success or morality, etc) in a reductive and simplistic way. So we end up thinking people are either ‘genetically predisposed’ to be a certain way, or they choose it (and work hard) and it happens; the rest of society offers no encouragement or resistance, and certainly bears no responsibility.
So it’s not surprising that since Louisa Wall’s gay marriage bill was drawn from the ballot recently, the public debate about homosexuality has separated along these lines too.
The bill’s most prominent opponent, Colin Craig, declared that homosexuality is a choice, and everyone from Wall to Michael Laws to Bomber Bradbury to Labour backbencher Damien O’Connor’s daughter responded, often rather defensively, that “People are born the way they are born” (Wall) and “They cannot change this” (O’Connor).
(The other possible individualist response is that of John Key, who’s exercising his liberal right not to concern himself with the whys and wherefores of homosexuality, and to let people do what they want so long as his relationships with Bronagh and Moonbeam aren’t affected).
The reality, of course, is that sexual and gender identity and practice are far more complicated than either being a slave to some mysterious ‘gay gene’ or waking up one day and ‘deciding to be gay’ (or straight for that matter).
While there may be some biological aspects and some choice aspects to sexuality, I’m inclined to put the most emphasis on what is most neglected; social factors. Like all human traits or behaviours, our sexuality is to a large extent socially constructed … how we live our gender/sexuality develops in complex and ambiguous ways as we interact with people/structures/definitions/values/practices in the time and place where we live. The extent of this is obviously up for debate, and there’s plenty of research and theory debating it, but I don’t see why the gender(s) we’re attracted to wouldn’t be part of this process too. (sorry about the google links, they’re meant to communicate that I should provide proper research for this stuff, but this is a blog and I’m lazy so you can do your own research)
Funnily enough, Colin Craig has come the closest to an understanding of the social construction of sexuality with some of his other suggestions, but he chooses the worst and crudest possible example of social influence, by suggesting that “child abuse can turn a person gay”.
Anyway. What interests me most about this public debate is not what the two sides disagree on, but what they implicitly agree on. Both ‘choice’ and ‘birth’ explanations imply that homosexuality is not a good thing.
One side says you choose to be gay, so you should choose otherwise; the other side says you don’t choose to be gay, so you can’t choose otherwise. One side says there’s no genetic excuse for homosexuality, so we don’t have to tolerate it. The other side says there is a genetic excuse, so we have to tolerate it.
What I want to ask is: why is homosexuality something that needs an excuse; something that is either tolerated or not tolerated?
Why can’t it just be something that is?
Why does being the same gender as your romantic/sexual partner such a bad thing that we should either encourage people to ‘choose not to be that way’ or insist that they ‘can’t help it’?
Ethnicity and race are also mostly social constructs, but we don’t make people try to prove that their ethnicity is biological and ‘something they can’t change’ before we allow them to live their ethnic identity, or assume that if they can assimilate themselves into the dominant ethnicity, they should.
The supposedly pro-homosexual side of the debate should abandon the implicit homophobia of the way they are arguing, because their stance of jumping down the throats of anyone who suggests you aren’t ‘born gay’ is communicating that unless sexuality is primordial and pre-determined from birth, the Colin Craigs of the world are right.
I don’t really care if there’s a “gay gene” or not, I don’t even care if people do “choose” to be gay. Either way or (neither way), it would take a separate argument to establish what this public debate implicitly presumes… that homosexuality is bad. And I’ve never heard any good arguments explaining why homosexual relationships are inherently or necessarily bad relationships.
I support loving, equal, strong, healthy, nurturing, free, committed, honest, supportive, outward-focussed relationships; married or unmarried, with children or without. And I support all controversial (at the time) legal changes that will make those healthy relationships more available to everyone… whether it’s banning polygamy or child marriage, banning sati (burning the wife on the husband’s funeral pire) in India in 1829, allowing inter-racial marriage in the US in 1967, or allowing gay marriage in New Zealand in 2012.