Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gay Marriage, Incest, and Polygamy

One of the most often-mocked arguments in the debate over “gay marriage” is the argument that permitting gay marriage leads to permitting incestuous marriages, polygamy, and the like.  The  problem is, the argument is solid, and I've yet to hear a coherent answer for it.  For example, Jon Davidson evades the argument, rather than answering it:
Jon Davidson
Bringing up polygamy and incest is simply a dodge -- an attempt to distract people from the injustice of denying same-sex couples the same opportunity to marry that different-sex couples want to preserve for themselves. That others might argue that they want to marry their relatives or have multiple legal spouses requires that those arguments be separately evaluated; it doesn't make the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage right.
So advocates of traditional marriage are right to bring up polygamy and incest. Consider two hypotheticals:

  1. Harry and Larry are homosexual twin brothers, and want to marry.  Should they be permitted to?  Why or why not?
  2. Gary, Harry and Larry are homosexual triplets, and want to marry.  Should they be permitted to?  Why or why not?
All of this is a long way around of asking, if two men can marry, why does it matter if they’re brothers? And why does it matter that there be only two of them?

Historically, the answer to both of the above hypos would be that no, they shouldn't be allowed to marry.  Marriage has been classically understood to be tied to reproduction, and regulated by traditional morality, and the notion of same-sex marriage isn't just forbidden, but literally impossible, like arguing for the legality of four-sided triangles.  Additionally, on the grounds of public morality, incest and polygamy are forbidden.

But the entire argument behind the gay marriage debate is that public morality is an insufficient basis to preserve traditional marriage, and that marriage must therefore be redefined.  But the argument that public morality is an insufficient basis to preserve traditional marriage is of momentous importance.  

After all, there's no risk of genetic deformity in the case of homosexual incest, precisely because the partners are incapable of consummating their “marriage.”  And assuming that they're twin (or triplets), the risk of coerced marriage seems minuscule - at least, no higher than in any other context. So why shouldn't incestuous and polygamous marriages be permitted, if gay marriage is?  

It would seem that the only compelling reason to forbid incest and polygamy is public morality.  Yet that's the very cultural lifeline that gay marriage advocates are seeking to destroy.  So, it's not a dodge at all for advocates of traditional marriage to raise the issue of incest and polygamy.  On the other hand, it's Davidson, and other gay marriage advocates, who are left dodging, or providing facile answers to these question.  

27 comments:

  1. I've often been accused of committing a slippery-slope fallacy when trying to argue that legalising gay marriage would pave the way to legalising even heterosexual incestuous relationships (I don't think you'll find a SSM advocate that opposes sterilisation?).

    This puts to rest that accusation. The underpinning principle that SSM advocates use to invalidate traditional marriage automatically validates all sorts of other, hitherto taboo "marital" unions.

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  2. A libertarian Christian coworker argued that his general philosophy was that a person should have the liberty to do what he chooses as long as it does not hurt others. Interestingly he did not seem to find biblical justification for denying SS couples the "right" to marry. His argument though was from a personal liberty angle. I brought up polygamy but his counter was that "most if not all forms of this involved under age children so that crossed his line of hurting others and existing laws took care of that issue. He further argued that there was not a clamor from adults pushing polygamy as a right so that was not a strong enough argument against personal liberty. His political philosophy was centered on the government not deterring its citizen from their pursuit of happiness. I argued that it is right for a government to promote basic good such as marriage but he did not seem convinced. Joe, I think your argument would fall on deaf ears even in logically sound. Have you had similar experiences with others regarding this topic?

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    1. This is not limited to libertarians, but liberalism generally of both the egalitarian and libertarian sort that together dominates the entire American political scene. Rawls' first principle of justice, for example, amounts to essentially the same idea. Try Michael Sandel, the most eloquent opponent of that philosophy, if you're interested in a refutation http://bit.ly/IrBgcb

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  3. A libertarian Christian coworker argued that his general philosophy was that a person should have the liberty to do what he chooses as long as it does not hurt others.

    My question would be, "Define 'hurt,' and who gets to decide what constitutes 'hurt'?"

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  4. I believe his definition of hurt was "infringing on someone's personal liberty". So the logic goes that my being part of a SS couple does not infringe on someone's personal liberty while the government denying SSM does.

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  5. Here's the thing that's so fascinating to me about this entire concept of "public morality" guarding and preserving basic morality. It comes down to a war over definition, SSM and other morally perverse pseudo-unions are, as the OP originally pointed out, completely illogical *if* the same traditional definition of marriage is kept. It's like trying to argue for a square-circle, it's logically incoherent. Therefore, there's this constant foment to change the definition society has for marriage to make it more conclusive. I would argue that the "slippery slope" argument is ABSOLUTELY valid because what you're dealing with at core is this revolutionary spirit that allows for any minority of the populace to complain bitterly and loudly enough for basic definitions to be changed and, by God, they're going to be changed! The kind of impact this attitude has on society is massive because the mindset that it flows from (ie, one of relativistic illogic that sees societal norms as mere conventions that flow from one definition to the next depending on who complains the loudest) will simply be applied elsewhere if SSM is legalized as the norm along with heterosexual marriage. This attitude will not go away as long as society is secular and totally neutral on value-judgments. People really need to wake up and realize that the basic issue is how society is structured. The only place that such a spirit of radical un-doing can lead is to a suicide of society, a break down of all conventions at the drop of a hat, one by one.

    Unless you appeal to natural law, I see no way to condone SSM and deny polygamy or homosexual incest because the others are just as much "conventions," the definitions of which are just as changeable, as heterosexual marriage and SSM. To cry out about injustice is, quite frankly, to miss the whole greater picture of being swept along in this massive tidal wave of deconstructing society brick by brick.

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  6. The founders of this country predicated the rule of law established by the Constitution on a common set of morality at the time. I have argued (unsuccessfully to others unfortunately) that the founders never considered the need to define marriage other than what it was because during their time there was no question to the definition. To some, pursuit of happiness allows me to be free to do what I want, yet the the unalienable of life is run over with euthanasia and abortion.

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  7. Gays have a right to marry someone of the opposite sex, just like you or I.

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  8. Aberrosexualism (homosexualism) is NOT "gay"!

    Were you aware that partisans of the aberrosexualist ideology (it is an ideology!), like the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the deceptively named “Human Rights Campaign” (HRC), stole the word "gay" for use as a misleading propaganda term to mask the stench and negative widespread connotations the term aberrosexual or homosexual has among the public at large?

    Aberrosexualist ideologues who push the macabre "celebration" of biologically aberrant sexual conduct o aberrosexualism, insist on using the propaganda term “gay” because it creates the illusion that biologically aberrant sexual conduct or aberrosexualism is somehow “happy,” “fun,” or “joyful”. Reality, of course, is totally the opposite. We should NEVER use "gay" to mean aberrosexual (homosexual).

    Referring to individuals who engage in biologically aberrant sexual behavior as "gay" is grammatically incorrect, not to mention degrading and extremely offensive to all normal, sane, truly gay people everywhere.

    It should be noted that the term "gay" is NOT scientifically descriptive of any type of sexual behavior, conduct or practice. Nor is it descriptive of any medical, sexual or psychological condition. Aberrosexualism, or biologically aberrant sexual conduct, far from being “gay,” is actually quite sad, depressing and injurious to one’s physical, emotional and mental health. Happiness eludes the aberrosexual because he is at war with his own nature.

    Please, stop referring to homosexuals as "gay." It is degrading and offensive to me as a gay person to be thought of as an aberrosexual (homosexual).

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    1. Dr. Meissner,

      I get what you're trying to do, but I disagree with it. Regardless of what “gay” originally meant, its use to describe homosexuals is so widespread that we needn't fear anyone mistaking it to mean that we're calling them “happy,” “fun,” or “joyful.” In this regard, it's no different than words like “Democratic,” “Republican,” etc.

      Trying to force “aberrosexualism” and “homosexualism” is unwieldy, and makes it very hard to read the content of what you're actually expressing. You actually begin a sentence, “Aberrosexualist ideologues who push the macabre "celebration" of biologically aberrant sexual conduct [of] aberrosexualism.” For the sake of technical precision, you sacrifice clarity and persuasiveness, a Pyrrhic victory.

      Finally, claiming that it's “degrading and offensive”: really? Should we likewise complain that referring to the Eastern Orthodox as “the Orthodox” is “degrading and offensive” to those of us who are “right-believing”?

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    2. Mr. Heschmeyer,

      Your post betrays your naiveté. When the partisans of the aberrosexualist ideology so rabidly insist on the use of the term “gay” in substitution of homosexual or aberrosexual, it is not because the term is as inconsequential as you naively believe it is.

      The partisans of the aberrosexualist ideology have strenuously lobbied the media to use the term “gay” because focus groups studied by aberrosexualist groups reveal that public approval ratings for aberrosexualism increases tremendously when the word "gay" is used instead of the more clinical, yet still imprecise term "homosexual."

      The enormous importance of terminology in the debate on aberrosexualism is revealed by the actions of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a national aberrosexualist hate group, that reports on their Internet page that it spent TEN YEARS lobbying The New York Times to stop using the word "homosexual" and replace it with 'Gay".

      Today, aberrosexualist-imposed Media Style Guides, the manuals used by major publications and news agencies in the U.S. to edit everything that gets published, brazenly demand substitution of the noun “homosexual” with the aberrosexualist propaganda term “gay man” or “lesbian,” except “when absolutely necessary to refer to the clinical condition of homosexualism.”

      And yes, it is degrading and offensive to countless others and me, as gay persons, to be thought of as aberrosexuals (homosexuals). Words ARE important. They ARE powerful weapons.

      Best regards,
      Judy

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    3. What a boob? Seriously. How old are you? First your writing sounds like someone just out of high school. That age is supported by the fact that you think "gay" referring to homosexual people, didn't start until GLAAD and started using it.

      Honey, I'm 53, and I've been GAY all 53 of those years, and the term has been used in that context for all of those years.

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  9. While I agree that homosexual behaviour is always immoral, I must also agree with Jon Davidson that your argument is a red herring. One simply cannot prove than an act is immoral by concluding that another different act is also immoral. In fact, one could more effectively argue that traditional marriage is most likely to lead to incest since traditional marriages are the only ones that produce children.

    Please understand that I believe neither homosexual behaviour nor incestuous behaviour to be morally legitimate; I am simply commenting on the reasonableness of your argument.

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    1. I think the argument is a little more subtle than that. The underlying reason incestuous and polygamous "marriages" are immoral is identical with the underlying reason homosexual "marriages" are immoral. Therefore to legitimize homosexual marriage is, ipso facto, to legitimize polygamous and incestuous marriages.

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    2. Christopher,

      I think your response misunderstands my argument. Like Nathan said, the arguments are more like this:

      1) In the push for legal recognition of gay marriage, advocates are claiming that morality-based arguments are illegitimate and insufficient to preserve traditional marriage. This claim is radical and dangerous, since it justifies not only gay marriage, but incestuous and polygamous marriage as well.

      2) The traditional boundaries of marriage (exactly two unrelated spouses, of opposite sexes) exist for a coherent reason: the preservation of traditional families. This is the best environment in which procreation occurs.

      But if we redefine the scope of marriage (to cut out the part that requires them to be of opposite sexes), and redefine the purpose of marriage (the creation of stable and loving families), then we're left with a definition of marriage that's completely arbitrary and irrational... and thus, unstable.

      There are plenty of good reasons to treat marriage as consisting of exactly two unrelated spouses, of opposite sexes. I know of no coherent reason to treat marriage as consisting of exactly two unrelated spouses, regardless of sex. Why "exactly two"? Why "unrelated"?

      I.X.,

      Joe

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  10. When your key cannot unlock the door, it is difficult to argue that you have the right key.

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  11. Indeed, aberrosexual (homosexual) so-called “marriage” paves the way for polygamy

    If the natural sexual complementarity of male and female and the theoretical procreative capacity of an orthosexual (opposite-sex) union are to be discarded as principles central to the definition of marriage, then what is left?

    If it violates the equal protection of the laws to deny those who engage in biologically aberrant sexual behavior or aberrosexuals their first choice of marital partner, why would it not do the same to deny pedophiles, polygamists, or the incestuous the so-called “right” to marry the person (or persons) of their choice?

    If, as aberrosexual so-called “marriage” advocates claim, it is arbitrary and unjust to limit the gender of one’s marital partner, it is practically impossible to explain why it would not be equally arbitrary and unjust to limit the number of marital partners.

    There are also two other reasons why aberrosexual so-called “marriage” advocates have trouble refuting warnings of a slippery slope toward polygamy. The first is that there is immensely more precedent cross-culturally for polygamy as an accepted marital structure than there is for aberrosexual so-called “marriage.” The second is that there already is a very active movement for polygamy or “polyamory.”

    The San Francisco Chronicle’s religion writer did a feature in 2004 on the “polyamory” movement. It even quoted Jasmine Walston, the president of “Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness,” as saying, “We’re where the homosexual 'rights' movement was 30 years ago.” The story also quoted Barb Greve, a program associate with the Association of Unitarian Universalists’ Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns in Boston. Greve, helpfully described as “a transgender person who likes to be called ‘he,’” said, “There are people who want to be in committed relationships —whether it’s real marriage, homosexual ‘marriage’ or polyamory— and that should be acknowledged religiously and legally.”

    The aberrosexualist -to use Dr. Meissner’s term- newspaper the Washington Blade has also featured this topic in a full-page article under the headline “Polygamy advocates buoyed by gay court wins.” It quotes Art Spitzer of the American Civil Liberties Union acknowledging, “Yes, I think [the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas] would give a lawyer a foothold to argue such a case. The general framework of that case, that states can’t make it a crime to engage in private consensual intimate relationships, is a strong argument.”

    This argument is already being pressed in the courts. Two convicted bigamists in Utah, Tom Green and Rodney Holm, have appealed to have their convictions overturned —citing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Lawrence case as precedent. And another attorney has filed suit challenging the refusal of the Salt Lake County clerk to grant a marriage license for G. Lee Cook to take a second wife.

    Make no mistake about it. If aberrosexual so-called “marriage” is not stopped now, we will have the exact same debate about “plural” marriages within a generation or less, especially in light of the growing Moslem population in America today and its insistence on imposing Sharia Law in our country.

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  12. Well stated. Just about every argument for homosexual "marriage" also works for every other form of "marriage."

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  13. As Girgis, George and Anderson argued, the whole debate boils down to the definition of marriage and why this strict definition has been historically supported by the State.

    There are other interesting arguments against "gay" marriage, such as why does the State have an interest in regulating the specific relationship of marriage? Why not friendships? The answer to this is, of course, that supporting traditional marriage stabilises society (there is evidence for this).
    An objection may be raised that only romantic relationships need be recognised (falling into the trap that marriage is principally about romance and not about rearing children). Girgis et all respond to this by describing "Joe and Jim's" situation:

    "They live together, share domestic responsibilities and have no dependents. Because Joe knows and trusts Jim more than anyone else, he would like Jim to be the one to visit him in hospital if he is ill... inherit his assets if he dies first, and so on. The same goes for Jim"

    It then questions whether it would matter if Joe and Jim had a sexual relationship. What if they were brothers, or best friends, or reunited widower friends? Should any possible benefits they may receive depend on a romantic relationship? Wouldn't it perhaps be unjust to withhold benefits just because they were NOT in a sexual relationship?

    This argument could then be extended to asking if Joe and Jim, why not Joe, Jim and John?

    This all again focuses the question back to what is marriage, and why does the state recognise it? If you extend the definition (and thereby destroying the definition), where is this extension limited to? What reasons would there be for this limitation? It would then be stretched beyond all meaning. People can't see this, yet to me it's so obvious.

    Sorry for the rambling. Thanks Joe for this clear post!

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  14. I am not an advocate of same-sex marriage, and I like the way this post calls attention to other issues that might be important for same-sex marriage debate. But I don't think this clinches much of anything. Here's how I think a response might go.

    Regarding incest, I think a defender of same-sex marriage could half-bite the bullet:

    1. Heterosexual incest is wrong because it puts potential children at high risk for birth defects, not because incest is wrong in itself. Homosexual incest does not have this risk, so it is ethically permissible. [And they might also say:] Perhaps sterile heterosexual incest is also fine.

    And, regarding the multiple partners argument, either deny the analogy:

    2. Human beings are only capable of forming marriage-worthy bonds with one person at a time. Therefore, two-person homosexual marriages are importantly different from any sort of multi-partner marriage, precisely because they're between two people. [And they might continue:] Our sense that polygamy is not marriage-worthy is actually further evidence that marriage is not about child bearing, since polygamous marriages are quite capable of producing offspring.

    Or bite the bullet:

    3. So long as the members of the multi-partner union are living and functioning as a cohesive and loving family-type unit, then their union is also worthy of marriage.

    Perhaps laws along the lines of these responses would also constitute examples of "public morality," but I think the advocate of same-sex marriage would say that the moral principles involved here are more obvious or more convincing than those involved in prohibiting same-sex marriage.

    If opponents of same-sex marriage want to argue by way of analogy, then they need to do more to motivate the analogy. Thanks for the post, Joe.

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  15. Mr. Heschmeyer,

    Your post betrays your naiveté. When the partisans of the aberrosexualist ideology so rabidly insist on the use of the term “gay” in substitution of homosexual or aberrosexual, it is not because the term is as inconsequential as you naively believe it is.

    The partisans of the aberrosexualist ideology have strenuously lobbied the media to use the term “gay” because focus groups studied by aberrosexualist groups reveal that public approval ratings for aberrosexualism increases tremendously when the word "gay" is used instead of the more clinical, yet still imprecise term "homosexual."

    The enormous importance of terminology in the debate on aberrosexualism is revealed by the actions of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a national aberrosexualist hate group, that reports on their Internet page that it spent TEN YEARS lobbying The New York Times to stop using the word "homosexual" and replace it with 'Gay".

    Today, aberrosexualist-imposed Media Style Guides, the manuals used by major publications and news agencies in the U.S. to edit everything that gets published, brazenly demand substitution of the noun “homosexual” with the aberrosexualist propaganda term “gay man” or “lesbian,” except “when absolutely necessary to refer to the clinical condition of homosexualism.”

    And yes, it is degrading and offensive to countless others and me, as gay persons, to be thought of as aberrosexuals (homosexuals). Words ARE important. They ARE powerful weapons.

    Best regards,
    Judy

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  16. Judy,

    How many less people would be homosexual today, in your estimation, if the word 'gay' was never used?

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  17. This article, entitled Why Fight Same-Sex Marriage, is well worth reading:
    http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=25-01-024-f

    It is lengthy but worth the time and effort.

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  18. Good evening, Mr Heschmeyer:

    I must dispute the analysis you offer in this essay. You write, "the entire argument behind the gay marriage debate is that public morality is an insufficient basis to preserve traditional marriage, and that marriage must therefore be redefined..." In the comments, you add: "in the push for legal recognition of gay marriage, advocates are claiming that morality-based arguments are illegitimate and insufficient to preserve traditional marriage. This claim is radical and dangerous, since it justifies not only gay marriage, but incestuous and polygamous marriage as well."

    The trouble is that this completely misses what same-sex marriage proponents are saying. The central argument in support of gay marriage is one of fairness and equal protection under the law, not the insufficiency of "public morality" to "preserve traditional marriage." I have never heard such an overwrought and convoluted argument. There is, however, a more fundamental problem with what you are saying here.

    Before I get to the heart of what is wrong with this essay's line of reasoning, some of your rhetoric compels me to insert a comment. You contend that one side is trying to "preserve" marriage, while the other side is trying to "redefine" marriage. Talk of "preserving" and "redefining" is hyperbole. If same-sex marriage is legalized throughout the United States, "traditional marriage" as you define it would not suddenly disappear. We know this, not only because it would be patently absurd to try to make that case that it would, but also because we have real-world examples from states and from countries that have legalized gay marriage. It turns out that "traditional" marriage coexists just fine alongside "gay" marriage. And in essential ways, both look a lot like, well, marriage.

    At any rate, you attempt to build the case that public morality is all that stands between not just "gay marriage," but also "incest," and "polygamy." The trouble with this argument is that these three are not in the same category. Ever watch Sesame Street? One of these things is not like the others.

    Here is why trying to add polygamy and incest to the discussion of gay marriage is a dodge of the highest order: it places homosexuality, which is natural for a non-trivial subset of human beings, together with behaviors that no one I know of is trying to justify, condone, or legalize. Moreover, "traditional" marriage itself offers no reasons which explain why polygamy and incest are inappropriate, deviant, and harmful. You say as much yourself: "it would seem that the only compelling reason to forbid incest and polygamy is public morality." Yes, I suppose so! They certainly are not forbidden by the framework of "traditional" marriage. So why must advocates of same-sex marriage be required to re-articulate the reasons for these taboos? (continued on next...)

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    1. (...continued from previous) The simple truth is that same-sex marriage advocates are trying to create a normative institution for the expression of their naturally-occurring, biologically-driven sexual orientation. They should not have to explain why their expression of marriage does not include incest or polygamy any more than advocates of "traditional" marriage do. I note here that the Christian Bible offers favorable examples of incest and polygamy in the context of so-called "traditional" marriage, but no one is waiting for an explanation from supporters of traditional marriage as to why this is wrong. We all agree that it is.

      On one point, we do agree: public morality is changing, of course. But then, I see this is a good thing. Once, it was taboo for interracial couples to marry and for women to breast-feed their babies in public. It was acceptable to beat one's spouse. It was fine to own slaves and use child labor in factories. And so on. I applaud change in public morality. The changes have been far more for the better than not. And so too it is with same-sex attraction: once thought of as a mental disorder, homosexuality is now recognized as normal variation in human sexuality.

      Notwithstanding your attempt to evoke shock, horror, and revulsion by hypothesizing about gay triplet incest, the idea that gays are all somehow deviants that belong in a category with polygamists and the incestuous simply does not have a basis in science. In the end, that alone makes this argument against same-sex marriage a straw-man.

      Thank you for considering my response.

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  19. Knight of Nothing -

    Your post completely misses the point, but beautifully illustrates the sort of hypocritical dodge the author describes. Your position is that homosexuality is "natural for a non-trivial subset of human beings" while polygamy and incest are "behaviors that no one [you] know of is trying to justify, condone, or legalize." In essence, you are saying that you consider homosexuality natural, but polygamy and incest morally repugnant, and since you don't know anyone who doesn't think the same way, you must be right.

    As it turns out, there are a lot more people in our country than just the ones you happen to know. Some people feel that their inclination toward polygamy is perfectly natural - or even ordained by God - and are currently pressing the courts for the decriminalization of polygamy (eg http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/us/12polygamy.html). Some people feel what they consider to be a perfectly natural inclination toward incest, and have been persecuted (and prosecuted) for being with the one they love (eg http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/08/28/hypocrisy_on_adult_consent/)

    The reason people bring up polygamy and incest in this context is not (or at least not necessarily) because they hate gay people, but because these are all lifestyles that the majority of American society has historically deemed deviant. Whether any or all of them is, in fact, deviant is beside the point. The point is - if you are advocating for the "normalization" of a lifestyle that historically has been deemed deviant, you can't do it with an argument that equally applies to similarly deemed lifestyles unless you also support their "normalization." Simply saying that those other lifestyles don't even belong in the conversation because you consider them devious is logically fallacious, ignorant, and hypocritical.

    As for me, I couldn't really care less about who marries whom. I would just like to see an intellectually honest and legally sound explanation of the position that legalizing gay marriage would not destroy the legal justification for state laws against, to use Scalia's laundry list, "bigamy, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity."

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