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FIRST-PERSON: Gay marriage, the slippery slope & polygamy

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Some people tend to be wary of slippery slope arguments, but when it comes to defining marriage the slope really does appear to be pretty slick.

Take note of this story out of Brazil, which is known for its progressive views on social policy and which already recognizes same-sex civil unions. CNN reports that a Brazilian official recently granted a civil union to a man and two women who are living in a polyamorous relationship:

“The relationship involves three professionals in their 30s — one man and two women — who, she says, live together, love one another as equals and are like any other non-married cohabiting couple — except they are three.

“What [the judge] did was legally register the trio as a ‘stable union,’ a civil union that extends all of the benefits of marriage, though there is debate about what rights the threesome will actually enjoy. It short, it recognizes the trio as a family entity for public legal purposes.”

There has been some pushback against this move by some groups within Brazil, CNN reports:

“‘This union is void of any legality,’ said Regina Beatriz Tavares da Silva, head of the family law committee of a lawyers’ association in Sao Paulo.

“Brazilian law defines marriage as a union between two people, so it is impossible for a civil union of three to be granted the rights of a marriage of two.

“‘It goes directly against the constitution,’ da Silva said. ‘Monogamy is defined as relations between two, not three or four or five.'”

As a legal question, it may very well be the case that the wedding of three is against Brazilian law. As a moral issue, however, the stage has already been set for precisely this kind of development. Once the conjugal view of marriage is abandoned (as it has been in Brazil), the sky is the limit as to what other kinds of “unions” might be recognized by the state. If heterosexuality is no longer a condition of legal marriage, then why should monogamy be one?

This particular story is happening in Brazil, but the moral trajectory of the gay marriage debate in America is headed in precisely the same direction. Redefining marriage will have consequences beyond what most people imagine right now. It’s happening in Brazil. There’s no reason to believe that it wouldn’t eventually happen here, as well. Robbie George puts a fine point on it when he writes at FirstThings.com:

“But what is the reason of principle that can be given by those who, while rejecting the idea that sexual-reproductive complementarity is an essential element of marriage, do not — or do not yet — wish to give up the idea of marriage as the sexually exclusive union of two, and not more than two, persons? Is there a reason of principle? Or is the belief in ‘two-ness’ mere bigotry?”

The implication is clear. Once traditional marriage is jettisoned as the norm, there is no reason in principle to deny every other kind of union. If it’s bigotry to deny legal marriage status to gay couples, then would it not also be bigotry to deny couples, triads, or quadrads the right to marry as well?

Gay marriage advocates may be loath to admit this, but the slope is very slippery.
Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, DennyBurk.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Denny Burk