Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t

During the 1996 congressional debate on the Defense of Marriage
Act, gay rights activist Andrew Sullivan was asked if legalized gay
marriage wouldn’t simply send society sliding down a ‘slippery
slope,’ where the next thing on the agenda would be legalized
polygamy. ‘To the best of my knowledge, there is no polygamists’
rights organization poised to exploit same-sex marriage and return
the republic to polygamous abandon,’

Sullivan retorted

It wouldn’t be the last time that a gay rights activist would
publicly distance the movement from other sexual minorities. In
2003, Republican Senator

Rick Santorum unloaded the same sort of argument
on an
Associated Press reporter: ‘If the Supreme Court says that you have
the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have
the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the
right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right
to anything.’ In response,
David Smith, the
communications director of the Human Rights Campaign
, said that
it was outrageous for Santorum to put being gay on the same legal
and moral plane as a person who commits incest. ‘That is repugnant
in our view and not right,’ he said.

There are a few important lessons to be gleaned here. First,
social conservatives see the slippery slope as a poison arrow that
can prevent all-out gay marriage, and they will use it again and
again. Second, gay marriage advocates will say anything to distance
gays and lesbians from other sexual minorities: the polygamous, the
swingers, the S&M practitioners, and those rare couples that
happen to be related.

This arms-length strategy is good PR. The reality, though, is
that non-gay sexual minority groups are doing exactly what Sullivan
said was improbable in 1996: they have formed political
organizations to fight for their rights.

Perhaps the strongest of these non-gay organizations is the
National Coalition for Sexual
(NCSF), an umbrella organization that caters to the
needs of transgendered/transsexuals, intersexuals, swingers,
polyamorists, and BDSM practitioners (bondage/discipline,
sadism/masochism, dominance/submission). Founded in 1997 and
headquartered in Washington, D.C., NCSF does media relations work
for more than 500 local groups and handles more than 600
information requests each year. NCSF scored an unprecedented amount
of positive publicity in January 2004 when
Time published a balanced profile of a BDSM

Among the smaller pro-polyamory organizations: the
Polyamory Association, the
Polyamory Society,
and Loving More, which
publishes a magazine by the same name. Two organizations that
advocate for first cousin marriage,
Cousin Couples,
received a huge boost in 2003 when the Journal of Genetic
Counseling discredited the widely held belief that the offspring of
first cousin marriages have significantly more birth defects. The
Institute for 21st Century
, another umbrella group, hosts well-attended
seminars on activism and media relations for non-gay sexual

As these groups continue to earn publicity, gay marriage
proponents will increasingly see their argument attacked on both
flanks. Liberals and progressives will begin to chastise those
activists who sell their principles of sexual liberation down the
river in the name of media spin. Those who decide to align
themselves with these groups risk being viewed as extremists.
Either way, it’s a good guess that, like it or not, gay marriage
proponents are about to start sliding down that slippery slope.

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