Extremism In The Defense Of Liberty Is No Vice

Steve Chapman, writing for Reason, pontificates on California’s Proposition 8, the question of whether gays in California should be officially allowed the right to marry. California already grants legal recognition to same-sex civil unions, but a recent court decision expanded that to open the name “marriage” to those agreements. Chapman suggests that such a decision should be made by the people, not the courts.

I personally believe that the state should get out of the “marriage” business for everyone, and only sanction civil unions. Leave the marriage business to the churches, where it rightfully belongs:

The idea, which I fully agree with, is that marriage is a religious concept, that happens to bear the same name as a legal concept. Most of the uproar over the gay marriage issue is based upon the contention that it will somehow damage the “sanctity of marriage”. This claim underscores the fact that church and state have become much more intertwined on the issue of marriage than is needed. We would be much better off if the government never broached the subject of marriage, and instead gave any consenting adults who wanted one a “civil union”.

But the situation being what it is, I would rather that we offer fully equal rights to everyone. Left unanswered, then, is whether there are acceptable and unacceptable methods for achieving such liberties. Chapman argues that doing so by judicial fiat is less acceptable than by the ballot box.

To say that gays should have access to civil unions rather than marriage could mean society regards them as unworthy of true matrimony. Or it could mean society sees same-sex unions not as worse or better than marriage but simply different, and thus properly designated by another name.

But the question before California voters is not whether the court correctly interpreted the equal protection clause of the state constitution. It is whether gay couples should be deprived of the right to marry that they gained a few months ago. And the best course would be the one spurned by the Supreme Court: to let the new policy remain in effect long enough to judge its value.

Barry Goldwater once said that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” I agree in this case. While it would be wonderful to wait for public opinion to be sure to offer equality to all, sometimes that is not possible. I’d rather take victories for liberty where we can get them, whether officially sanctioned by public vote or not.

Here in California, thankfully, the voters may actually reach the pro-liberty conclusion. If so, it will be a watershed moment. As a large state, California tends to lead the rest of the nation in many ways (some better than others), and for this to pass would be a major victory for civil liberties. But if it loses, it will be a sad day as the public stands athwart the tide of history in in favor of bigotry.

Unfortunately, as of midnight last night I have officially missed the window to register to vote in California. So my disgust with McCain, Obama, Boxer, and Feinstein will preclude me from exercising a vote against Prop 8. I only hope that it won’t matter on Nov 5.

  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy

    Don’t worry, Brad, I’m sure Tony Romo, Mickey Mouse, and Doodad Pro will cast plenty of “No” votes on Prop. 8 come election day.

  • Brett


    I personally believe that the state should get out of the “marriage” business for everyone, and only sanction civil unions. Leave the marriage business to the churches, where it rightfully belongs:


    Who said that the churches should have ANYTHING to do with the institution of marriage either? Hell, I’d rather have the State (ideally an impartial government entity) in charge of marriage than any religious group(s).

    In the best situation, marriage would simply not exist the way it does today. Marriage is a social contract between two individuals and should be left at that.

    I’ve been happily married now for 15 years, but both my wife and I realize now, that if it weren’t for the fact that we pretty much had to so she could get any kind of useful insurance, we would not have done it. Between the idiocy of the ‘Churches’ who have turned marriage into another platform for attempting to destroy those who they see as detrimental to their cause, and the State, which in it’s ever so generous method, taxes the hell out of us for having the audacity to get married, it’s not worth it.

  • http://www.splendidmarbles.com SplendidMarbles

    All states have much more pressing issues to deal with. Civil unions that guarantee gay couples all the rights and protections offered to straight, “married” couples should be all that matters. This civil union vs. marriage is just a battle over semantics between social conservatives and liberals.

  • http://anarchangel.blogspot.com Chris

    Hold on one second here. Let’s stop diluting TRUE rights, by conflating them with constructed rights.

    Civil Marriage is not a right.
    Religious Marriage is not a right.

    Civil CONTRACT IS a right.

    I’m not a social conservative, I’m a believer in limited government. When we start elevating social constructs into rights, it erodes that principle.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany


    A civil union (often called “marriage” by the state) is a legal contract between two adults.

    A marriage is a religious concept, and in religions like Catholicism is elevated to the level of a sacrament.

    In my Libertopia, a religious marriage will not confer any state recognition whatsoever. Couples married by a church would then file a civil union agreement with the state. The civil union would simply be a standardized legal contract that defines such things as next of kin rights and other matters.

    My goal would be to separate the civil and religious concepts of marriage, so we stop referring to the civil concept using the same term as the religious concept. Thus, religions would be free to marry (or not marry) whoever they want. At the same time, any consenting adults (of any sex or number) could form a civil union.

    But since we don’t have Libertopia, instead I think we should open the current civil contract (defined as a marriage license) to any number or sex of participants, as it is merely a legal contract to the state.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany


    Civil Marriage is simply a subset of Civil Contract.

    The state can’t consecrate a “marriage”, which is a religious concept. They can only recognize a legal contract, which is all that marriage truly is to them.