Here’s a bit of the slippery slope in action. Gay marriage has spurred a lot of talk about abolishing marriage altogether as a legal status. This plan to abolish marriage is usually pitched as a “compromise” between proponents and opponents of gay marriage. (Compare Solomon’s proposed compromise between the competing claims of two mothers.) After Lawrence v. Texas, Michael Kinsley made the suggestion in “Abolish Marriage.” Recently, in USA Today, Jonathan Turley followed up his 2004 call for legalized polygamy with a call for the replacement of marriage itself with civil unions. (See “How to end the same-sex marriage debate.”) Presumably, given Turley’s earlier backing of polygamy, those civil contracts would allow for multi-partner unions. Kinsley is clear that his plan would equalize traditional marriage and multi-partner unions.
For all this talk about abolishing marriage, I’ve never actually seen a legislative proposal that would do it. Now we’ve got one. In the wake of New York’s highest court’s refusal to find a right to same-sex marriage in New York’s constitution, Barbara Lifton, a New York State Assemblywoman (D-125th District), is proposing to eliminate marriage as a legal status, in favor of “civil commitments” for all. No doubt, that would allow same-sex couples to have “civil commitments.” And as we’ve seen with Kinsley and Turley, if we’re no longer talking about “marriage,” multi-partner “civil commitments” will surely follow. In any case, it wouldn’t take multi-partner unions to make the abolition of civil marriage a disaster. Just removing public support for marriage as an institution would be damaging enough.
This proposal has no chance of passage right now. Yet it’s a clear sign that as same-sex marriage spreads, more and more people (including traditionally religious opponents of gay marriage), will begin to look to the abolition of civil marriage as a “solution.” This is the reality of what same-sex marriage has brought: not a strengthening of traditional marriage, but calls for its abolition.