Thought it was a good time to put in my 2 cents. Especially since I’d already written about this issue a couple months ago.
I’m one of those people who don’t believe in gay marriage, but who does believe in civil unions. My reasoning is simple. Marriage is at its evolutionary root about altricial infants, paternal care, and sexual fidelity. In its biological and ecological basis it is identical to the monogamy displayed by the wolf, by south american monkeys, and by certain species of birds. Ergo, a homosexual couple literally cannot be married.
But there’s no denying that homosexuals are just as capable of loving and devoted relationships as heterosexual people–not to mention the fact that these days fewer heterosexual couples are really focused on the family (sorry for the pun), so why should they be denied the rights accorded to heterosexual couples who wish to make the arrangement semi-permanent?
In Defending Marriage, I argued that the best way to protect marriage is to get government completely out of it. There are two reasons for this:
1. Government-sanctioned marriage really is discriminatory. It is a state-enforced privilege offered to some adults but not others based on a choice they make. As such it goes against the core classical liberal principles of freedom of choice and individualism. Privileges for one group can only be maintained by penalties against another.
2. By allowing government to get involved in the marriage business, we politicize it. Marriage becomes not a cultural, historical, and biological phenomenon, but a political tool. And, as in all things of such a nature, marriage will be bent, twisted, and eventually broken in the quest for power.
On Problem 1:
The classical liberal position is one in which the philosophical perspective centers around the individual rather than society at large (which is merely a thin disguise for veneration of the state). Furthermore, the classical liberal position is that for an individual to be free, he must be able to do as he wishes so long as no direct harm comes to another. The flipside of this, of course, is that the state and/or society should have no direct role in the choices the individual makes. Marriage is fundamentally an agreement between two individuals; an agreement of sexual exclusivity, mutual fealty, and dedication to the rearing of their progeny. Marriage is a choice; two free individuals approach the altar, and two free individuals, one carrying the other and both slightly drunk, cross the threshold into the honeymoon suite.
The first problem is that government sanction and/or protection of marriage is essentially interfering with an individual’s choice, positive though the interference may be. In this way, marriage is no different from social welfare in that the state somehow subsidizes a person’s behavior. The second problem is that no individual has more inherent rights than another. Yet when the state sanctions, protects, and subsidizes marriage that is exactly what it proclaims; it gives preferential treatment to those individuals who make a certain choice. The third problem is that because state interference is largely positive, it negatively impacts those who didn’t make the choice to marry. As has been discussed at length, positive interference by the state of any kind represents a reduction of liberty.
We are thus left with the conclusion that state-sanctioned marriage simply does not fit in the classical liberal scheme.
On the second problem:
The problem is that once the state is allowed to grant preferential treatment to married couples, it must defend its decision to do so. Although the preceding section discussed the problematic nature of state-sanctioned marriage from a minarchist position, it must be remembered that Leftists are opportunistically individualists. Marriage happens to be one such issue where it suits them to drop the Statist cloak, if only for a time.
Leftists will reduce marriage down to economic privileges, whether shared tax forms or pooled bank accounts and assets. Or down to legal privileges such as the ‘next of kin’ designation available to the spouse but not to the ‘life partner’. Or even the 5th amendment spousal inclusion. They will then make the valid argument about the lack of equality before the law. Unfortunately, the way their nihilistic minds work is that instead of removing the preferential treatment, or making accordances for it through civil unions, they should redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
And by allowing government to define the word and the concept of ‘marriage’ in the first place, we’ve given leftists the ability to change that definition both politically and culturally.
Most importantly, classical liberals have a healthy distrust for government; it’s one of our hallmarks. Why then should we allow marriage–a meaningful, beloved, and sacred institution–to become something that is defined and enforced by the government?
The solution is a simple one. Get the state out of marriage entirely. No privileges, no tax breaks, no legal protections. Not because marriage isn’t important or valuable. But because it is too valuable to leave in the all too corruptible hands of government. We take our philosophy from the founding fathers. And the historical progenitor of that philosophy was distrust of the state. They distrusted it because it was an inevitability that the state would stop serving the people it was created by. And thus that the more power the state had, the larger a hammer that could eventually be wielded against the people. The state is an evil, albeit a sometimes necessary one. Perhaps because of this it has been a hallmark of our philosophy that the more beloved the ideal, the less involvement of the state we’re willing to grant. By giving the state a role–no matter how small–in defining marriage, we’ve exposed a sacred concept to the same depredations that we fear would happen to our liberty and our property.
Save marriage. Get the state out of it.