By P. David Hornik
Aug 18, 2003, 00:09

I remember when the Beatles burst on the American scene in 1964, the uneasy reaction of my parents and other adults. It had to do with their “long” hair, the wild vitality of some of their songs, their use of subversive slang phrases like “yeah, yeah, yeah.” From today’s perspective, of course, the Beatles ca. 1964 look laughably innocent, and many people’s parents—including mine—found themselves converted to guilty admiration for lovely, harmless ballads like “Yesterday,” “And I Love Her,” or “Girl.”

Yet just three years later the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album with a “psychedelic,” druggy atmosphere that explicitly sang the praises of LSD in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (as it happens, also a fetching tune). It turned out the worried parents were right. They might not have been able to explain what was alarming about bushy hair or “yeah, yeah, yeah” lyrics, but they sensed something: the beginning of a slippery slope. By the late sixties the Beatles and many other groups were in the big business of producing “psychedelic” albums and encouraging a generation of kids to take dangerous, illegal drugs. It took only a couple more decades to arrive at the brave new world of MTV, in which even preteen kids spend hours routinely absorbing messages and images of utter depravity.

If there’s one lesson that the history of American and Western society in the past few decades should teach us, it’s that slippery slopes materialize. In the gay-marriage debate, the slippery-slope argument is often derided as foolish and overblown. But so were a lot of others in their time. The record suggests that once you open the floodgates an inch, the torrents pour through.

From “sexual liberation,” the notion that sex is lighthearted fun and adultery is no big deal, to soaring rates of divorce, cohabitation, and single parenthood. From advocacy of group rights (obviously justified in some cases) to blatantly discriminatory quota systems. From Playboy bunnies and “sophisticated” hedonism to kids downloading hard porn on the Net. >From glorification of the “mind-altering” properties of drugs to epidemic drug abuse among younger and younger children. From Roe v. Wade to abortion mills and infanticide euphemized as “partial-birth abortion.”

The enormity of social and political change in the last few decades leaves room for differing evaluations of particular changes. But if a basic measure of a society is the sort of life it provides for its children, then the balance of these changes is clearly negative. First of all, in most of the Western countries fewer children are being born at all. For those who are, the chances are drastically lower that they’ll grow up in intact families with their biological parents, drastically higher that they’ll fall prey to evils like alcoholism, drugs, unwanted pregnancy, depression, delinquency, and suicide, and virtually certain that even before reaching adolescence they’ll be swamped with a sex-and-violence pop culture interested only in their parents’ dollars and not, precisely, in their moral and cultural development. Although the balance of the changes looks clearly negative for adults, too, the harmful effects are most glaringly, undeniably manifest in regard to children.

Indeed, the gay-marriage issue is itself an outcome of a slippery slope that began with gay-rights advocacy in the early seventies—and that, many now argue, portends a further slippery slope toward state-sanctioned bigamous, polygamous, or even incestuous marriage. The first thing that should alarm us is that on the theoretical plane, this particular slippery-slope argument is unanswerable (in regard to bigamy and polygamy) or very hard to answer (in regard to incest). No proponent of gay marriage is able to explain why, if marriage between two men is acceptable, marriage between two women and a man should be unacceptable—why, if ten years from now it will sound quaint and passé to say “But marriage can only be between a man and a woman,” it will sound any less quaint and passé to say “But marriage can only be between two people.” (In fact, if I knew I was going to be reincarnated as an orphan and could choose between being adopted by two men or two women and a man, I would choose the latter, since then I’d at least get parents of both sexes.) And it is difficult for gay-marriage proponents to explain why the state should prohibit, say, marriage between an uncle and niece who are infertile or past childbearing age. True, one could argue that the incest taboo is essential to society’s functioning in way that the homosexuality taboo is (was) not. But one cannot prove—only suppose and hope—that a future court would not reject that argument and instead rule in favor of an incestuous marriage on the same grounds of love, commitment, and personal prerogative that are used to justify demands for homosexual marriage.

If we switch to the empirical plane, it is all too easy for opponents of gay marriage to point to already-existing movements advocating multiple marriage or cousin marriage. And it is all too easy to point to modern, liberal society’s tendency to be open and indulgent to claims by various groups and slide rapidly down slippery slopes. If we survey our present-day landscape of MTV, rap music, Internet porn, infanticide, racial discrimination, rampant substance abuse, broken homes, never-established homes, and a host of other ills, it seems all too likely that allowing gays to wed will lead us down a slippery slope to stranger and stranger mutations of what is still meaningfully referred to as marriage.

David Hornik lives in Jerusalem. He moved to Israel from the U.S. nineteen years ago. David is a freelance writer and translator. His op-eds, longer articles, book reviews, and fiction have appeared in the Jerusalem Post,, the Jewish Press, Moment, Midstream, Jewish Quarterly, Congress Monthly, B’nai B’rith International Jewish Monthly, and many other periodicals.

David can be reached at

© Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved.