Rush Limbaugh, Animal Lover?
I wasn't quite as irritated with this Will Saletan column as Megan McArdle; I just thought it was a little obtuse. Against people who claim that tolerance for gays has paved the way for bestiality chic, as embodied by the quasi-documentary Zoo, Saletan argues that the men who love horses are more like frat boys than gay men, more Rush Limbaugh than Tony Kushner. "At the core of [the zoophiles'] mentality is a craving for otherness," he writes. "Zoophilia isn't homo. It's hetero. Very hetero." Later, he argues that zoophiles treat horses the way misognyists treat "bimbos," that horse-on-man action is a way "to get away from failed marriages and friendships," and that the nights when the men get together to "pester the horses" have the air of a "frat party," rather than a gay orgy. He concludes: "If you're worried about where this mentality comes from, don't look at Brokeback Mountain. Look at Limbaugh."
Well, okay. But was anyone arguing that homosexuality and zoophilia are the same kind of sexual behavior? Clearly men who love men and men who fancy horses are diverging from the heterosexual norm in very different ways - as Saletan says, one goes homo, the other goes very hetero. (Though one might argue that some forms of opportunistic homosexual behavior - particularly in other cultural contexts, though I think you could see some hints of this in Brokeback Mountain - do function as an escape valve for otherwise-hetero men looking to "get away from failed marriages," or just from the demands of heterosexual monogamy in general, in the same way that Saletan suggests that zoophilia does.) But the slippery-slope argument, as it's usually advanced, isn't that if we accept homosexuality as normal, the next thing you know all those crazy gays will be out messing around with the horses, too. It's that the logic that's used to advance the mainstreaming of homosexuality seems to also require the mainstreaming, or at least the tolerance, of other variations on the man-woman sexual theme. So sure, the people who are most likely to have sex with a horse or a sheep are probably living way out in Red America, not in TriBeCa, and they might even be more likely to listen to Limbaugh than NPR. But the people who are the most likely to look at bestiality from the outside and say "what's the big deal?" aren't Limbaugh listeners; they're the same people who think that consent should be our only standard of sexual morals - people like, say, a film critic for the New York Times. This is where the slippery slope shows up - in the shaping of attitudes toward sexual behavior, which only later filters down to affect the incidence of the behavior itself.
And maybe doesn't filter down at all. This is the weakness of arguing against gay marriage on the basis of slippery slopes: Even if, as seems clear from the reviews of Zoo, acceptance of homosexuality has made the acceptance of bestiality more plausible than it used to be, there probably isn't enough demand for the right to shtup animals to overcome the general public's aversion to the act. (The same goes for incest, as I argued the other day.) The slippery slope argument does have more force when applied to the problem of polygamy, where the demand is potentially much larger, and I tend to agree with Stanley Kurtz that there's a deep incompatibility between polygamy and democracy. On the other hand, I remain unconvinced that in the American context, at least (Europe might be a different story), there's enough cultural oxygen for would-be polygamists to stake a claim to the kind of personal and legal freedoms that their gay neighbors have managed to claim. But I guess we'll find out.