Gay Marriage Redux

Co-blogger Jonathan wondered what Roderick Long's position on gay marriage is, given Long's statement:

But this means that we should be trying to wean people away from the political process – that we should be encouraging them to ignore the state, not to become energetically involved in political campaigns.

While searching for an unrelated Long post, I came across this from a few years ago, which pretty much echoes the same arguments I've made on this blog:

A correspondent asks me what rights the Federal Marriage Amendment would have violated. Gays would still have had the right to have private, non-state-sanctioned marriage ceremonies, he argues; they would simply have forfeited governmental benefits to which no one has any right anyway.

I think this is too quick. These “governmental benefits” include rights that any couple either should have (e.g., the right not to have employer-paid insurance for one’s spouse counted as taxable income, or a citizen’s right not to have his/her noncitizen spouse deported) or should be able to contract into (e.g., the right to make medical decisions for one’s spouse when necessary). These are not special state-conferred privileges we’re talking about. (Of course marriage does come with such privileges also. So does being a police officer or a physician – but that’s no argument for banning gays from being police officers or physicians. Instead we should be fighting to get rid of the privileges.)

Wouldn’t civil unions solve such problems just as well as marriage? Maybe. But such a “separate but equal” approach strikes me as repellent. What would we say if black couples could have “civil unions” but only white couples could legally “marry”? (And in response to those who reject this analogy on linguistic grounds, arguing that marriages are heterosexual unions by definition, see my post from a year ago: Who Defends Marriage?.)

Not that this directly answers Jonathan's question; there is an admitted tension between agorist avoidance of the political process in general and advocating for gay marriage, regardless of whether we get to advocate for our strictly libertarian view of gay marriage or embrace the second-best mainstream package-deal of legitimate rights and illegitimate privileges.

And from that final linked post comes this useful tidbit as well,

In the end, however, I’m happy to say that the issue between Mr. Sobran and myself is moot. For we both favour the abolition of the state. (See Mr. Sobran’s article The Reluctant Anarchist.) Under Mr. Sobran’s favoured political régime, and mine, the legal definition of marriage, like all legal issues, will be decided not by a monopolistic government but by private, co-territorial enterprises competing for customers. Within the same geographical area, some legal institutions will cater to socially conservative customers by offering only traditional heterosexual marriage contracts and advertising boldly “We defend the family!” while other institutions will cater to socially liberal customers by offering a wider variety of marriage contracts and advertising with equal boldness “We defend equality!” And the whole legal wrangle over marriage will be done with, forever.

In the meantime, however, so long as governments do monopolise the definition of marriage, the political struggle must continue between the social liberals who seek to defend the spiritual meaning of marriage and the social conservatives who seek to debase marriage to a merely biological function. Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.

Long wrote it, I believe it, that settles it. Kidding, of course, but life sure would be a hell of a lot easier if argumentation worked that way.

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Redirecting political energy toward ending state involvement.

I've wondered, even after people are convinced that state involvement does more harm than good, what are the prospects of convincing gay marriage advocates to instead redirect their energies toward ending state involvement in marriage, period. I'd say not good. The majority, in this case straight married people, would oppose it. True, they oppose gay inclusion into the status quo, but it seeems, from a kind of rent-seeking perspective, to be much easier to extend those priveleges than abolish them altogether.

Micha points out obvious state granted benefits that are legit from a libertarian standpoint. Considering one must pay into social security, for example, the expansion of choice with regard to that money to include gay couples - who also must pay - seems eminently defensible. It's like the vouchers vs. homeschooling (or other strategies of "attrition") emphasis. I can see great arguments for both.

Political reality check

I'm totally in favor of privatizing marriage. But it's not going to happen. It's not even on the radar. Meanwhile, gays and lesbians are suffering real discrimination based on marriage (tax rates, immigration, social security benefits, difficult to adjust inheritance assumptions, child custody, etc.) and more abstractly the emotional angst of being told by the government they are second class citizens. Unlike privatization, this is likely to be fixed in the next 10-20 years. To oppose gay marriage on the theory that that is advancing liberty is to ignore the political reality.

Nor is it obvious to me which route is the best route to privatizing marriage. Prohibiting gays from marrying as a precedent to privatization seems unlikely. Nobody sees it that way except the 1% libertarian core (though the author above has a point that preventing gays and lebians from marrying inclines them to devalue the institution). On the flip side, allowing gays to marry may weaken support for government marriage as religious conservatives will stop defending it so much.

Here's my analogy: if someone is in favor of any tax cut are they in favor of giving white men a tax cut, but no one else? I hope not. No matter how much we like tax cuts, that would be a nasty bit of government enforced discrimination to swallow.

Yes, actually.

Here's my analogy: if someone is in favor of any tax cut are they in favor of giving white men a tax cut, but no one else?

Yes, actually. Which is more important, equality or liberty? Measuring equality is extremely difficult. Even if it were possible to measure, how could you justify greater oppression of one class of persons (in your example, white males) on egalitarian grounds?

Coincidentally, Long has addressed this issue, albeit indirectly:
Equality, The Unknown Ideal

In the linked article, Long quotes Rothbard:
[T]he justice of equality of treatment depends first of all on the justice of the treatment itself. Suppose, for example, that Jones, with his retinue, proposes to enslave a group of people. Are we to maintain that "justice" requires that each be enslaved equally? And suppose that someone has the good fortune to escape. Are we to condemn him for evading the equality of justice meted out to his fellows? (original available here)

We should celebrate every freed slave, every innocent person exempted from taxation, every non-criminal relieved of the threat of coercion. And if the liberation of one person is unpalatable because it leaves others still oppressed, let us work to free them all, and not begrudge any man his new-found freedom.

Now, this does not resolve the question of gay marriage. I have no idea whether extending state marriage certification to homosexual couples increases liberty, but I suspect it would, in part through the elimination of estate and gift taxes. I have not seen a detailed analysis of the rights and privileges arising from state-certified marriage from a libertarian perspective. For now I'm comfortable as an agnostic on the question.

Discriminatory law in pursuit of liberty is no virtue

Which is more important, equality or liberty?

Liberty. But you've rigged the question by offering an example where they are conflicting goals, and blurred the line between equality of outcome and equality before (not wildly unjust) law.

A world where the government sets tax rates based on race will have less liberty. The day after a nominal tax cut for white men will be a tax increase for non-white men. The next week will be political blackmail via race-based tax rates, rent seeking, increased hostility between groups, etc. The sin taxes are all tax cuts for people who don't do those things. Do we have more liberty because of that? I think not. We have less because not only isn't the net tax burden reduced, the government has another lever to control us with. Were that first tax cut a prelude to lower taxes for everyone, I'd for it. But, that's not the case.

Similarly, were the prohibition on gay marriage a stepping stone to privatizing marriage, I'd be for it. But, it's not. Instead, it's a tool for abusing government authority to transfer assets and privileges unjustly from one group to another.

Inequality that results in more, or at least no less, liberty for everyone, I might favor. But building inequality into the law for a short-term liberty boost for one class won't produce a net liberty increase in the long run.

Here's my analogy: if

Here's my analogy: if someone is in favor of any tax cut are they in
favor of giving white men a tax cut, but no one else? I hope not. No
matter how much we like tax cuts, that would be a nasty bit of
government enforced discrimination to swallow.

perverting isonomy : the fallacy of isodomy

Arthur, I'm excited to see


I'm excited to see you have addressed this issue, and coined a good term for it. Given its prevalence, the fallacy of isonomy deserves more attention, and one of these days I'd like to chat with you about it.

Even Long wrote: But such a “separate but equal” approach strikes me as repellent. What would we say if black couples could have “civil unions” but only white couples could legally “marry”?

Yes, separate but equal turns me off, but I'm more concerned with the overall level of oppression involved in each of the options. Given two choices, we should select the option yielding the least oppression, regardless of the inequalities it imposes.

Gay Marriage, What's the Hurry?

Disclaimer: I do not consider myself homophobic. I approve of the fact that gays can now live openly and do what they want in private without the threat of police repression. I don’t get offended at gay humor or gay characters on TV. I don’t believe that gays are morally any worse than everyone else. However, my contact with openly gay people is through the media. I know some people who are said to be gay. I don’t know or care if they are. I do not assume anyone, no matter how “gay acting” is gay. Whether a real person is gay or not gay is simply not a topic of conversation I engage in.
That said, I don’t think gays should expect the government to issue them marriage licenses simply because licenses are issued to straight people. As far as I can tell, the only real argument they have is that it is unfair for the government to treat gay and straight people differently. This is a political issue. The government treats many classes of people differently. Customs and traditions come into play. There is an indigenous culture in this country, as there is in any country. There is nothing that says that there is an inherent right to sweep away hundreds of years of cultural precedence by simply showing that it is unfair. And it is unfair. But if it is unfair now, it has been unfair forever. How come this was not even an issue until a few years ago? Of course things change and if the polity is convinced that changes are needed, it can influence the legislature to change the law.
To simply say that the law baring gay marriage should be made void simply because it is unfair is to buy the notion that we have a Rawlsian system of justice. This is a debatable way of running things. But I see the hyperegaliterian idea being put forward all the time as though were not debatable. I’m for fairness too, but the way the gay marriage issue is being used to bully everyone about this by accusing non-supporters of homophobia is unfair too.
I would be more supportive if I could be convinced that lack of a marriage certificate really meant serious suffering on the part of homosexuals. That kind of convincing may take time, but may be doable. Right now I think it is just a case of the grass being greener on the other side. How many gays, especially men, really want to get married to a man? It just seems so unmanly. It is ironic the people like Micah, who are staunch supporters of gay marriage are the ones who want phony “open marriages” for themselves if at all. My fear is that these radical attacks denigrating all previous customs and traditions will have untoward consequences, so some unfairness may be indigenous to life that cannot be entirely done away with.
One thing Micah points out should be the greatest attraction of libertarianism to the conservative. This is the fact that removing marriage and other institutions from government control would release people from giving support to things they find unacceptable. Thus you would think all conservatives would be libertarians and most gays would be conservative. Alas, many conservatives are busybodies, even when they are closeted gays.

As far as I can tell, the

As far as I can tell, the only real argument they have is that it is
unfair for the government to treat gay and straight people differently

While I think it is the main argument (maybe gay people have trouble accepting inhomogeneity and thus the idea to be treated differently, just a random thought), it is also the worst argument. But certainly not the only one. There are convincing tax arguments for allowing gay marriage (it increases  the number of people you can potentially give gifts to without paying too much taxes, thus it increases freedom). 

There is a gay,

There is a gay, libertarianish-conservative who has written extensively on the topic you raise, namely, What Would Hayek Think About Gay Marriage? That man is Jonathan Rauch, and his answer to that question is here.