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Most of my arguments with defenders of the legalization same-sex marriages have been friendly ones. I have some strong views on the subject, based on my adherence to what I believe is the Bible’s teachings on the subject. But I also care deeply about preserving a pluralistic social order, where individuals and groups have the opportunity to live out their deepest convictions—however disagreeable to people like me—within a framework of a shared commitment to the common good. So, many of my arguments on this particular subject have been efforts on my part to get clear about what the expansion of the concept of marriage to include same-sex unions will mean for the social fabric.

There is one question that I have raised several times in these discussion for which I have never been given an adequate answer. If we are to operate as a society on the assumption that any sincerely held view about what constitutes a marriage should be granted status in our laws and practices, I have asked, what would keep us from legalizing plural marriages, or even incestuous ones? My question has regularly been met with disdain. “C’mon, Mouw,” one conversation partner said recently, “can’t you do better than a ‘slippery slope’ argument?”

I find that frustrating. Some slopes are indeed slippery, and we do well to approach them with caution. Which is why I take it seriously when I find myself challenged by a slippery slope argument about something that I advocate.

My challenge in this regard has to do with the recent court decisions regarding Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College. In each case employers have resisted health insurance arrangements that violate their sincere opposition to funding abortions. I share their views, and have argued that these sincerely held convictions ought to be granted legal status—which is basically the perspective set forth recently by the majority of Supreme Court justices.

Here, however, is the slippery slope challenge in this context. Suppose a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to support a health plan for their employees that permitted blood transfusions? Or what if a Christian Science employer refused to provide any health insurance at all? Surely those are sincerely held convictions that have a right to be considered for protection in providing employ benefits.

The challenge is legitimate. And I don’t have an immediate response that settles the concern in any satisfactory manner. But I do take the challenge seriously. I have to—if I want the defenders of same-sex marriage also to take my challenge to them seriously.

What this says to me is that it is time to wrestle honestly and openly with this topic of the legal status of deep and sincerely held convictions. No eye-rollings. No “Oh, c’mon” type jibes. We need serious and sustained discussions, with all of the challenges on the table. 

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