A slippery slope is an inviting prospect: as seductive, oily and simple as the logic that drives it. If we even begin to slither down this road, goes the argument, how could we ever dig ourselves to a standstill before the bottom? How can we condemn sex with a dead pig, they ask, when sex between two men is now legal?
Afraid to entertain the notion that a certain X can take place without a disconnected Y happening immediately afterwards, people seduced by slippery slopes stand doggedly in the way of progressive change. Their position, as nuanced as a group of honking geese, rests on the belief that if one minority group achieves parity with the rest of society, others will spew out of the ground like volcanic perverts, forcing us to cater to their every whim.
Same-sex marriage is a favorite topic for slippery slope enthusiasts, who maintain a canteen of taboo relationships to which gay sex can be compared. Incest is a favorite. So, depressingly, is bestiality. The comparison seems obviously hyperbolic, desperate, tragic. I’ve always wondered: do the people who employ this fatuous argument sincerely believe it? And why, if they believe it, would they choose to make it in public, online? So, after the Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in America, I took a survey of the landscape and asked.
Mukala is a 27-year-old graduate from Zambia. Why is he so angry about homosexuality? “I am atheist, so I do not believe gayism [sic] is a sin,” he said. “I do not think homosexuality should be outlawed, but I oppose gay marriage because it changes the century-old definition of marriage. A union between a man and a woman with a view to raise a family.”
So far, so traditional. But why get silly? Why compare equal marriage to that between a human and an animal? “My tweet was meant to show my opposition to gay marriage, not what I really think is coming ahead.” Aha. “I do not think gay marriage will lead to legalization of marriage with animals to be honest,” he added.
When pressed, in fact, Mukala offered a little introspection. I asked how a gay person might feel upon reading this comparison. “Gay people probably feel bad when their relationships are compared to bestiality, and I think it is unfair to make such a comparison.” His statement was meant to illustrate his point “in a light manner,” he said, but “I suppose it didn’t do that.” He admitted, during our conversation, a sense of regret.
A student living in California named Armané is younger—18—and claimed to have been under the influence of drugs when he made his comparison. “I think men are suppose [sic] to love women,” he told me, unsurprisingly. (It is endlessly fascinating that homophobes focus almost exclusively on male and not female intercourse.)
Like Mukala, Armané cleaves to no religion—but was incredulous when I suggested that homosexuality is something people are born with, not a choice. He told me that homosexuals are simply pretending to be gay. “How can you be born attracted to the same sex?” he asked. “There is something inside them that’s calling for them to be straight. I think they’re acting fake, because do you see any gay animals? No.”
Despite this bizarre thesis, and his conviction that “marriage to animals will be legal one day,” Armané already regretted his tweets by the time he talked to me. “I know a lot of homosexuals. That’s why I regret putting that up. I should’ve never put gay marriage and bestiality together. I was just trying to say new laws will be made soon.”
Though they could have stuck to their guns and told me to fuck myself, neither Armané nor Mukala wished to defend what they had originally said. So why did they say it? It’s a knee-jerk statement, the easiest way to belittle. Every person I spoke to who’d made this argument in public on social media understood that gay people might find the animal comparison more than a little offensive. But, of course, none of them understood this intuitively enough not to have made it in the first place.
Occasionally, the slippery slope enthusiasts find a larger platform than Twitter. There are the Christian couples who vow to divorce if gay marriage is legalized; Rick Santorum, who called the issue “just like 9/11”; and of course Kim Davis, the inconsistently convicted serial divorcée who went to jail for the “sanctity of marriage.” A vocal minority continues to back all these people up; one of them is even running for President, and standing by his remarks. But there is no convincing argument against equality, and if the fight against gay marriage were a building, it started burning a long time ago. In no time, it’ll be a wreck.
A woman named Dinah is the most Kim Davis of my interviewees. “Most ‘gay’ people I’ve met are simply confused about how to express their perverse lifestyles,” she informed me. Dinah is a 28-year-old Nigerian and the only devout Christian I spoke to. She justified her opposition to homosexuality in terms of fundamentalism: “As a Christian I believe it is a sin because the Bible is against it,” she said, citing chapter and verse. “The bus stop for all unrepentant sinners is Hell.”
Dinah seemed genuinely worried that the legalization of interspecies weddings is just around the corner: “When gay marriage is made legal other kinds of unnatural sexuality will feel deprived of their right too. People are already marrying their animals.” When I asked her what she meant by this, she didn’t have an answer.
Tellingly, Dinah said that she doesn’t know any gay people. Her sense of regret was therefore negligible. When I asked her how gay people might have reacted to her remark, she said, “They would probably feel bad, but that doesn’t make it OK. They just need to mentally come out of that unnatural sexual orientation.”
Mukala, by contrast, said, “I don’t hate gays. I don’t think they should be jailed, or killed or discriminated against unfairly, but the definition of marriage shouldn’t have to change because of them.” He ended by saying, “I find gay people interesting and fun to be around.”
But it was Mukala who also managed to best encapsulate the conservative instinct that positions any sort of change as inherently terrifying. “Much like people with colorblindness,” he says, “we don’t have to change the names of colors just to accommodate them. Red must remain red, and they shouldn’t be free to teach kids that red is something else.”
It is an interesting analogy, although one that of course manages to privilege heterosexuals as blessed by inherent correctness, much as the bestiality analogy devalues the primacy of consent. Mukala feared that the colors were changing, and they are—if not to the palette he imagines. Red just isn’t red anymore.
Source image from Focus Pictures, illustration by Bobby Finger